June 18, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
For his biography on the South Carolina basketball web site, Sindarius Thornwell had said the one person he'd like to spend a day with is his now deceased great grandmother, whom he called 'Sissy.' The two had a close relationship, and she was the one who pushed him toward the Gamecocks when he was being recruited.
"I lived with her since the sixth grade," Thornwell said. "It was just me, her and my grandmother most of the time. She never came to basketball games though. She didn't like me playing basketball because she said it was too physical. I could talk to her about anything though, and I knew she had the best interests for me. She told me that the only way she would come see me play is if I came here."
Sissy passed away when Thornwell was a junior at Lancaster High School, so she never was able to live up to that promise, but the rising junior hasn't stopped trying to become a better player and a better person on and off the court.
Part of this training didn't require him to pick up a basketball. Upon recommendation from Gamecock head coach Frank Martin, Thornwell took part in a five-day Athletes in Action sponsored camp last month in Dayton, Ohio.
"He thought I should check it out because he thought it could help make me a better leader and a better captain," Thornwell said. "It helped me really identify what was wrong with myself and what I struggled with."
Athletes in Action is an organization that uses sports to help athletes answer questions about faith. Thornwell's introspection made him realize that he couldn't lead unless he set a good example.
"I couldn't be the kind of leader I needed to be because I wasn't doing all of the right things that I should have been doing, whether it was getting in the gym more, or being on time everywhere I go," Thornwell said. "This got me leaning more in the right direction. It made me get out of selfish ways. Instead of worrying so much about myself, I started thinking how I could help someone else."
You can't really help someone unless you have a relationship with them. That stuck with me.
Thornwell was accompanied by basketball student-athletes from around the country including Texas A&M's Alex Caruso, Clemson's Jaron Blossongame and Donte Grantham as well as former NBA star Clark Kellogg.
"There were meetings and discussions on different scenarios," Thornwell said. "They talked a lot about building relationships. Just because you're teammates, doesn't mean you really know them. They talked about learning about each other's families and things like that. You can't really help someone unless you have a relationship with them. That stuck with me. We did a lot of team bonding exercises. I think I got a lot out of it."
Thornwell admits that it was difficult for him at first because he is not very outspoken, but he was able to adjust and open up with people that he didn't know as well as he knows his own teammates.
"I knew that was something I needed to work on," Thornwell said. "I usually sit back and don't say much, even in situations where I probably should have. I knew they were all here for a reason too, so it wasn't embarrassing because we were all struggling with something. I just felt comfortable since we were all willing to try to get help."
The most fun he had at the camp was working through a roped obstacle course 40 feet in the air.
"It helps you step outside your little bubble where you are comfortable," Thornwell said. "We went across a zip line too. I was nervous the whole time, but there was a guy (Ike Iroegbu) from Washington State who was a teammate of mine at Oak Hill Academy. We were really competitive with one another. I didn't want to lose, so that helped me get through it."
Thornwell embraced the challenges and was glad Martin recommended it for him.
"They teach you a lot about yourself and your team," Thornwell said. "It helps you find yourself and the things you need to work on. Coach Martin and I have a strong relationship. We talk a lot. I'm comfortable where if I need help with something, I know I can go to him."
As he becomes an upperclassman, Thornwell said the best part about being a Gamecock is the support system of people who, like Sissy, are looking out for him.
"The fans, the people in the Dodie (Academic Enrichment Center), the coaching staff, and everybody else here all have your best interests," Thornwell said.
With the Gamecocks breaking through with a strong postseason last year and finishing with a winning record, Thornwell can't wait to help the program take the next step this year.
"I'm really excited," Thornwell said. "I was hurt a lot last year with both of my knees being injured. I'm excited to be back healthy at 100%, and I'm ready to help my team."
Sissy would likely be proud to see him growing up and learning to help others. Although he would love for her to see him play basketball, his main reason for wanting to see his great grandmother again is quite simple.
"I would probably just tell her I love her and how much I appreciated her," Thornwell said.
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