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NBA AM: Thornwell Proves Maturity Beats Potential

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If you, like a lot of people, were surprised to see the seventh-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks make the Final Four in this past spring’s March Madness tournament, you might not have been if you had watched any of South Carolina star Sindarius Thornwell’s senior season.

Thornwell, easily one of the league’s best two-way guards, not only scored 21.4 points per game while shooting a career-high .442 from the field, but also averaged 7.2 rebounds, 2.2 steals and one block, showing just how effective he was on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

Currently, though, not a single one of the Basketball Insiders mock drafters has last year’s SEC Player of the Year slated as a first-round pick. Draft Express currently has him going 55th overall, which basically intimates that he could just as easily get drafted as not. That seems like a small miracle considering how good he was in his final college basketball season.

But he’s a senior, which these days works against older players hoping to get drafted. Teams seem to think a player in his 20s can’t offer the same potential for growth as a 19-year-old with his whole career still ahead of them.

Thornwell, stoic and tough in both his on-court and off-court personas, thinks that is a bunch of hooey.

“I’m getting drafted. It’s just a matter of where—late first or second round,” he told Basketball Insiders at the NBA Draft Combine late last week.

His argument is that there are simply too many things he’s proven he can do that these unproven teenagers haven’t.

“I bring more toughness (than the freshman players),” he said. “Physically, I already can compete, and I’m mature enough to understand my role and not get as upset about maybe not playing as much right away. Plus, I’m able to guard. Young guys don’t understand, that’s what’s going to get you minutes.

“That’s what I’m selling myself on, is giving team’s stars a break on defense so they can compete more on offense, but I also know I can score. You’ve got 18-year-old freshman heading into this draft that have never scored 18 points in a game. There are guys who averaged 10 points a game being talked about in the lottery, whereas I’ve proven myself to be a good scorer.”

He has, and not just against the lower-level teams South Carolina may have played during the regular season. Thornwell had a huge NCAA Tournament, scoring 24 points or more in four of his five tourney games. He believes showing out on the big stage proved he still should be in consideration for a draft selection much higher than the 55th one.

“The NCAA tournament run helped me a lot,” he admitted. “It’s not like I was playing one way during the season and then just had a crazy game. The way I played in the tournament is the way I played in January and February. Being on that stage, with all those eyes watching me, I knew I had to take advantage of that opportunity, and I love the spotlight. Everybody was paying attention because of all those big teams that were playing. It’s one thing when you score 25 points against South Carolina State, but it’s something else when you have 25 against Duke. That’s a big difference, so I think that I benefitted a lot.”

As far as the Combine is concerned, Thornwell didn’t do a whole lot to change what teams already knew about him coming into the process. They understand his maturity, his strength, his toughness and his experience. It’s just going to be a matter of how many teams want to take risks on youngsters, and how many teams are looking to add an established talent. Thornwell knows his best fit is going to be with the latter type.

“I feel like I can come in and help right away. I bring toughness, competitiveness, playing hard. Those things spread, especially when you have a guy that competes and loves to defend. On the offensive end, I’m not a defender that you don’t have to worry about on the offensive end because I can create and make the open shot. I bring a lot to the table.”

Some team will snatch him up in the second round and immediately benefit from his skillset. At some point in the draft, it’s silly to pass up known value for a roll of the dice, and Sindarius Thornwell absolutely is a known commodity. Somehow, though, he still has a lot to prove.

“I’m just doing whatever I can to help my stock,” he said of the Combine. “I’m not worrying about what everyone else has going on. Whatever I have to do to help my situation, I’m doing it. I’m not worried about it helping me or hurting me. I think that’s why some guys don’t compete. They’re afraid of someone that’s ranked lower than them outplaying them. They’re trying to protect themselves in workouts and in the process.

“I just want to show that I’m a competitor on both ends of the court. I don’t even feel like I have a position. I’m just a ball player. I want to do things the right way and compete. That’s all I’m worried about.”

That should be enough to get him drafted, and whoever does select him is going to get a real competitor, which sometimes is worth a hell of a lot more than the high hopes attached to players with “potential.”

With Thornwell, we’re not talking about potential anymore. Potential was three years ago. Now, he’s an NBA player.

All he needs to prove it is a team.

Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.

About Joel Brigham

Joel Brigham

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.