Why patience matters to Jermaine Couisnard ahead of his official USC debut
Sindarius Thornwell, NBA player during the fall, winter and spring months, is an apparent sports editor in the summer.
The former South Carolina star had a platform Tuesday night outside Heathwood Hall’s gymnasium. Surrounded by cameras and recorders, Thornwell had a suggestion — or was it a demand? — for media members when they go about reporting individual achievement in the South Carolina Pro-Am.
“When he goes off for 40, y’all need to put there ain’t nobody out here playing defense,” Thornwell said. “That’s what y’all need to put. Let them know that this Pro-Am is a showcase. Y’all want to see real basketball and see somebody earn a bucket, come to the Classic. Y’all gotta see it. That’s what I gotta say.”
A couple things to clarify ...
▪ The “Classic” is a reference to the Kuntry Classic, a Thornwell-hosted summer league that runs through August is his hometown of Lancaster.
▪ Jermaine Couisnard, after 47 Tuesday, has now scored 40 or more points in consecutive SC Pro-Am games.
The latter is what has driven the most discussion this week in Gamecock basketball circles.
Couisnard had been mainly a mystery to USC fans since committing to Frank Martin’s program in January 2018. He sat all of his true freshman season because of an academic issue. Big numbers — like the fact he averaged 29.2 points his senior year of high school — and big statements from big names — like when Duke’s R.J. Barrett said in March that “anywhere over half-court” is Couisnard’s range — created a perception, but outsiders didn’t have anything concrete until they saw him on Sunday drop 40 in the Pro-Am opener.
Two days later, the 6-foot-4 guard flirted with 50 points, something founder Carey Rich said has only happened once (Devan Downey) in the eight year history of the event.
So what’s to make of it? How do July performances in meaningless exhibition games translate to January and February when the opposition is fighting for SEC positioning and NCAA Tournament berths?
Jo Jo English was a Gamecock standout in the early 1990s who had a long professional career, including a couple stints with the Chicago Bulls. The Richland Northeast coach is in charge this week of Chick-fil-A Two North Road, Couisnard’s Pro-Am team.
English’s belief in Couisnard stems from personal interaction. Not necessarily the gaudy statistics.
“He got 40 without even thinking about scoring,” English said. “He’s already become my favorite USC player, I want him to wear No. 4 (English’s old number). I’m big on defense and playing hard regardless of what kind of ball we’re playing. All his conversations during the timeouts, during halftime were about playing defense, ‘Who we getting matched up on?’
“I tell the guys, ‘I know this is the Pro-Am, this is street ball, whatever, but let’s get out of coming across half-court and taking pull-up 3s. Let’s move it around a little bit and stuff like that.’ And he’d be like, ‘Coach, where you want me?’ He’s very, very coachable. And I got standards. If you turn the ball over or you don’t play D, you’re coming out. And he’s like, ‘I got it, Coach.’ And he’d go out there and he’d compete. That’s what I love about him.
“Frank Martin has something special in him, in my opinion.”
Couisnard made 18 of 24 field goal attempts — 6 of 11 from 3 — in leading Chick-fil-A on Tuesday to a 135-105 win over Tevin Mack, T.J. Moss and Honda of Columbia. Couisnard added six rebounds and nine assists, including an alley-oop to P.J. Dozier with 1:12 left in the second half.
“He’s legit, man,” Dozier said. “He’s a hooper. He does that every day. South Carolina has got them a good one.”
Early projections for USC’s starting lineup involved an A.J. Lawson-Jair Bolden backcourt with Couisnard as first guard off the bench. But now?
“I don’t foresee him being the sixth man,” English said. “I don’t think he’s going to let that happen. He has that natural competitive instinct. I think he’s going to be a perfect Frank Martin-type player because he’s tough-minded. He reminds me of a Sindarius mentality.”
Thornwell, for the record, is a big Couisnard fan. He’s seen enough of him to know the Gamecocks could have used Couisnard last season.
“I’ve been telling people the second best player is not even playing,” Thornwell said. “I tell people all the time that the other guy who can average 16 with A.J. is not even on the court. The highest recruited guy in that class is not even playing.
“A.J. wasn’t the highest recruited, Jermaine was. So if you want to go by rankings and stuff, the best player in the class is not even on the court yet. So you’re missing potentially another 15-point, 16-points a game. So how many games did they lose by 15-plus? That’s another 15 that you can add that we were missing all year.”
The Pro-Am continues at Heathwood on Thursday. Couisnard’s team plays at 7:15 p.m.
South Carolina Pro-Am schedule
THURSDAY - JULY 25
6 PM JETS VS. HONDA OF COLUMBIA
7:15 PM LEEVY’S VS. CHICK-FIL-A TWO NOTCH RD
8:30 PM BERNIES CHICKEN VS. HOOD CONSTRUCTION
SUNDAY - JULY 28
2 PM Championship
*All games to be played at Heathwood Hall.