GLENDALE, Ariz. – Not up on your Sindarius-ology? There’s still time, but it’d better be now.
Sindarius Thornwell has turned this month into a tour de Sindarius. See him go for 29 points and 11 rebounds against Marquette in the first round. See him pile up 24 points and six rebounds and five assists to dispose of Duke, then 24 points against Baylor and 26 against Florida to light up Madison Square Garden. He accounts for 31.4 percent of South Carolina’s tournament point production, not to mention a bunch of rebounds and assists, and seemingly getting to the free throw line about every four minutes, and serving as the soul of the Gamecocks’ defense.
How to explain all this? “Just the moment,” he said Friday. “I know everybody’s watching. I always believed that big players step up in big games.”
Or as teammate Maik Kotsar said, “He can do pretty much anything on the court. He’s a threat on every part of the floor.”
With Gonzaga next, here are 10 things we should know about the shiniest star in this Final Four:
1. And now, in the next episode of Dancing With Sindarius, Thornwell will assume the role of...
Kemba Walker? South Carolina can only hope.
Walker is the most recent gold standard for owning March. When bubble team Connecticut, with no margin for error, rolled through the 2011 Big East tournament and then through the NCAA bracket – in effect, 11 elimination games in 28 days -- Walker was the heart of it all. His numbers for those 11 wins were 24.6 points, 6.1 rebounds 5.5 assists. Then he cut down the nets.
The tournament has not seen such a championship aria since. Give the Gamecocks two more wins, two more boffo Thornwell performances, and it’s seen one now.
2. The Palmetto State can relax, he’s feeling fine. Thornwell had been sick this week; virus or something. But he said he was much better Friday, and will be on the court Saturday. “Nothing,” he said, “was going to stop me from playing.”
Coach Frank Martin mentioned how Thornwell felt bad about missing practice Thursday. “He’s wired to compete. He said to me last night, `Man I feel like I’m letting everyone down.’ I said `Huh? What is wrong with you? Letting who down? The game’s Saturday.’
“That’s just who he is.”
3. Who saw Thornwell coming when this season started? Or his team? South Carolina was picked eighth in the pre-season SEC poll, without a vote in the first Associated Press or coaches’ top-25. On the 12-player all-SEC preseason team, there were four Kentucky players mentioned. But no Thornwell. Flash forward to March, and say hello to the conference player of the year, in the coaches’ voting.
“We always felt we could compete with everybody,” he said. “The NCAA Tournament was our chance of showing everybody that we could compete. Nobody expected this from us.”
4. About the origin of his first name. “I have no clue,” he said. Just part of family tradition. He has a sister Quasheka and a brother Quantavious.
5. Not every player who shows up as a wrecking crew in the Final Four ends up smiling. Thornwell certainly hopes for a different fate than Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, who rolled into Houston last April with a 29.3 scoring average in the tournament. People were saying the same things about Hield then that they are about Thornwell now. The Sooners were blown away by Villanova 95-51, and Hield scored nine points.
6. Thornwell is from Lancaster, a South Carolina town of 10,000. Charles Duke, the 10th man to walk on the moon, went to high school there.
7. Martin can talk a long time about what Thornwell has meant to his team.
“It starts with courage. He makes all those guys understand that we’re good enough. And when your best player accepts coaching like he does, it allows you to coach everyone on your team.
“And then he gives, he doesn’t take. Like, he never comes out of practice. Never. I don’t care what drill we’re doing. I don’t care how many times he’s done it in his career, he will not come out. He’ll only come out of practice if I grab him and say, `Sin, get out.’
“He grabs young guys and he shows them film. And he teaches them how to see film and how to understand film.”
8. One other trait Martin appreciates is how Thornwell will diffuse situations in the huddle, when Martin is shredding a player over some mistake or malfunction.
”That’s almost every day,” Thornwell said. “He’s almost about to go off on a younger guy every day. We just try to keep coach focused on the most important goal, and that’s the game.”
And what happens if it’s Thornwell getting Martin’s wrath?
“I just don’t look at him. When I mess up, I don’t look over there until I have fixed it or corrected it.”
9. He missed six December games because of a suspension for unnamed reasons. His first night back, he had 19 points and 11 rebounds against Georgia. Nearly a month later was his 44 point-21 rebound epic against Alabama in four overtimes, when he played 56 minutes.
“It humbled me,” he said of the suspension. “I just came back with a chip on my shoulder because I felt like I had something to prove. I felt like I had to get those six games back and I felt like the NCAA Tournament was going to be the opportunity. I came back more motivated than I was before.”
10. The Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player award has had landed in some unexpected hands lately.
There was Louisville’s Luke Hancock, who scored only 27 points in the first four NCAA Tournament games combined in 2013, but went for 20 and 22 at the Final Four. Duke freshman Tyus Jones in 2015. Even Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, who won the 2012 award despite his 1-for-10 shooting in the championship game. A testament to 16 rebounds, six blocks and five assists against Kansas.
Maybe another surprise comes Monday. But if South Carolina is holding up the trophy, hard to imagine it not being Sindarius Thornwell.