Chants of BRRUUUCCEE resonated from Williams-Brice Stadium seven times this season and now those cries will move a mile or so up the road to Colonial Life Arena. South Carolina’s top hoopster turned wide receiver is headed back to the hardwood, at least part time.
Sophomore on the basketball court Bruce Ellington arrived to the practice facility early on Monday morning and was one of the first in the door for the 6:30 a.m. practice. Since then, he’s devoted all of his energy to basketball, at least until football practice starts again following exams.
Ellington will play but won’t start in tonight’s game against Providence (7 p.m./ESPNU) as he hopes to revive a slumping Gamecocks (2-4) squad that dropped both of its games in Las Vegas, Nev. over Thanksgiving weekend.
“I missed it,” Ellington said, wearing his Under Armour, loose-fitting sleeveless jersey still drenched in sweat from his third day back at practice. “Playing football, you don’t get a chance to go out there and play basketball with all the meetings, and practices. I’m just excited to be back out here.”
The team has missed Ellington this season as junior Lakeem Jackson had to move to point guard. Another option, sophomore Brenton Williams, has missed the last three games due to a sprained knee.
The scoring is down and the offense is turning the ball over too often. The Gamecocks need their point guard back and Ellington is finally available.
“We’re trying to get our chemistry back together so we can win some games,” Jackson said. “He’s looking pretty good, like he hasn’t missed a beat.”
Ellington has worked overtime this week with assistant coach Michael Boynton not only to get back into basketball shape, but also to learn the new wrinkles to the offense and defense.
The Friars (5-2) won’t have to hear Ellington’s name announced with the starting lineups tonight but he will come off the bench and be “a role player,” he says.
“I’m just going with the flow,” Ellington said. “Whatever comes, comes.”
Ellington said his shot is pretty good right now but it’s his conditioning that needs work. Playing two sports all of his life, he know it won’t take too much to get back into basketball shape.
He’s out of basketball shape because he’s been running around on the football field since the first of August. Ellington has played a role as a backup receiver, starting kickoff returner, and part-time Wildcat quarterback.
While on the football field, Ellington watched as his teammates fall well below .500 and also drop games to opponents that shouldn’t be able to hang with the Gamecocks. Now, the focus is helping the team achieve some positive marks in the win-loss column.
“It’s been tough, just being out there and not being able to help the team but knowing you can help the team,” Ellington said. “The guys are working hard, getting better every day at practice. We know what we have to do to get better. We’re just working on rebounding, boxing out and defending the ball, and that helps the offense get going.”
He will be back on the football this year, but both coaching staffs and Ellington will broach the practice issue when the bowl schedule is announced.
For now though, Ellington has traded in his cleats for sneakers and his teammates are thrilled to have him back.
“He was never really out of the loop,” senior Malik Cooke said. “We always saw him around, he would eat with us, come to the locker room and hang out with us. He was never really that far away, but it’s nice having him back around.”
What they learned
The Gamecocks faced their first tests against top-notch competition when they traveled to Las Vegas, Nev. last week. The team came away with two losses, but also learned a few things about itself during its time across the country.
Junior Lakeem Jackson: We have to play every minute, every second of every game. We can’t take anybody for granted. We can’t go out and just expect to murder guys on the glass. We got beat on the glass in both games. We have to go play every minute and every second.”
Sophomore Eric Smith: We learned about toughness. We had to play two back-to-back games. It was really tough. We were tired, but we had to come out and play hard. The number one thing we want to improve on is taking care of the ball. We had 25 turnovers, but we still had a shot to be in the game in the first half. We were right there in striking distance. If we would have taken care of the ball a little better, we would have given ourselves a chance to win.
Senior Malik Cooke: I think we learned to fight and that we can play with anybody if we come out with our mind right and do the right thing. We’re going to try to grow from that experience. This week, we came back and worked really hard and are trying to get better at the little things.