Chris Silva on Sunday wore a shirt with “GAMECOCK BASKETBALL” printed loudly across his chest. Consider it an updated version of the Under Armour attire he’s fashioned these past four years.
But it wasn’t long ago when Silva was deciding whether to expand his wardrobe to look more like Sindarius Thornwell and P.J. Dozier. That pair of former USC greats walked into Heathwood Hall rocking the gear of their current employers -- Thornwell in Los Angeles Clippers blue and red; Dozier in faded Oklahoma City Thunder navy.
The South Carolina Pro-Am is a week-long display of local hoops, prominently featuring Gamecocks of old and new. Silva, originally scheduled to play, decided not to participate this year. He’s a spectator at Heathwood, monitoring his current teammates while watching a duo he’s hoping to join again one day.
Silva, the 6-foot-9, 223-pound reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, announced on May 21 his return to Carolina for his senior season. Part of the decision process, he said, included conversations with Thornwell and Dozier.
“They guided me through a little bit,” Silva said, “gave me a blueprint and I tried to follow and do my best.”
“I just told him to evaluate everything,” Thornwell said. “Make sure the decision is for you, on you, and nobody else.”
Thornwell, the 2017 SEC Player of the Year, is entering his second season with the Clippers. Dozier, who left USC after his sophomore year, is entering his second season with the Thunder’s organization. That twosome once paired with Silva to help the Gamecocks to their only Final Four appearance, the program’s crowning achievement.
Silva in 2017-18 saw a role change. He went from being contributor to a team’s No. 1 option. He led USC in points, rebounds and blocks. He earned first-team All-SEC honors.
The accomplishments helped confirm for Silva a thought he had entering his junior season.
“I wanted to do this,” he said of testing the NBA waters. “Even before the season started, Coach (Frank Martin) told me, ‘I think you should do it.’ And at the end of the season, I really wanted to do it. And we talked about it and he said, ‘Yeah, I think you should do it.’ I said, ‘All right, let’s do it.’”
From mid-April to mid-May, Silva traveled the country, working out in NBA arenas from Oklahoma City to Brooklyn. The advice he received echoed what he’s been hearing in Columbia since 2015.
You need to develop your 3-point shot more. You need to improve your defensive presence on the perimeter.
“Most of the stuff they told me to get better on was the stuff Coach told me all year,” Silva said of Martin. “The point is to come in and listen to what Coach says and improve your stock.”
Silva, who was not invited to the NBA combine, said he had more visits planned when he informed Martin he’d like to return.
“Traveling every day,” Silva said, “that was a little bit tiring. I was like, ‘You know what? I’m ready to come back and I want to make something happen.’
“He was like, ‘OK, if that’s really want you want, come back. But I don’t want you to come and not want to be here.’ I told him I want to be here. That’s what I want.”
Silva is already among the school’s all-time top 10 in career blocks (seventh), free throw attempts (seventh) and free throws made (fifth). He’ll easily crack the top 10 in career rebounds and games played.
He has a chance to lead the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding two consecutive seasons. That hasn’t happened in Columbia since Carlos Powell from 2003-05.
Silva’s also a candidate to give USC two SEC POYs in three seasons.
“Chris has grown over the years,” Thornwell said. “I think he’s got the mental part of basketball down. He’s gifted physically – he can do everything – but Chris always struggled thinking the game and stuff like that. I think he’s gotten that part down with being around Coach.
“I think last year really helped him because he was in that situation where he had to lead the team and he was the guy. I think kind of helped him have a great year.”
Dozier, a McDonald’s All-American at Spring Valley, and Silva were part of the same ‘15 recruiting class that ranks as one of the highest-rated in the Martin era.
“Huge growth, huge improvement,” Dozier said of Silva. “He’s in a great place. He’s in a great place here at South Carolina. He’s making the right decision for him and that’s what’s it’s all about. He’s definitely going to have a great career.”
Off the court, Silva is expected to earn his degree in information technology. On it, he’s hoping to become more well-rounded for the ‘19 NBA Draft.
His game, he said, will translate with an improved shooting touch -- “A lot of the workouts I did, it was pick-and-pop and step-in 3s” -- and a more complete defensive approach -- “A lot of times, when I go to a guard, I mostly like to let him go and then try to block it. (Martin) told me to stop doing that and try to stay in front of the guards and keep them in front of you.”
A final year with Martin and USC awaits.
“You got to keep working,” he said. “I chose the right spot. They’re going to make me work. Whether I’m All-SEC or a freshman, they’re going to make me work.”