UK Men's Basketball

Ellington a dual threat for Gamecocks

South Carolina guard Bruce 
Ellington can do two things at once, whether it's dribbling or playing two different sports.
South Carolina guard Bruce Ellington can do two things at once, whether it's dribbling or playing two different sports. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Returning kickoffs on Monday. Making three-pointers on Tuesday. It's been a busy week for South Carolina two-sport athlete Bruce Ellington.

After helping South Carolina beat Nebraska in Monday's Capital One Bowl, he rode six hours with his family from Orlando to their home in Moncks Corner, S.C., rather than fly back to Columbia with the football team.

"My mom wanted me to ride back with her," he said, meaning his family wanted to spend some time with him.

The next morning, Ellington drove an hour or so to Columbia to participate in Tuesday's pre-game shootaround. That evening, he came off the bench and made all three of his three-point shots in South Carolina's basketball victory over South Carolina State.

The end of football season and the return of Ellington, a member of the Southeastern Conference's all-freshman basketball team last season, has been highly anticipated. So much so that South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn has tried to lighten the dual-sport load carried by the player.

"One thing that's overlooked in all this is that even though he's a tremendous athlete, you're still dealing with a 20-year-old," Horn said Thursday. "That's a lot. That's a lot for anybody to do, much less a young person."

So Horn, the former Tates Creek High star, dampens the implication of Ellington rescuing the basketball team, which opens SEC play at Kentucky on Saturday.

"'Oh, Bruce is back, everything's OK' or 'Oh, I'll put him in the starting lineup and let's go,' " Horn said of basketball expectations. "I don't think that's fair to him."Horn acknowledged that he thinks about Ellington wearing down. The player has been with the football team since August.

"Something to keep an eye on, to be sure, and be aware of," Horn said before adding, "We're also getting into the time of year where that's true for the entire (basketball) team. He's just coming from a longer fall than us."

When asked about mental or physical fatigue, Ellington said he was fine.

"Actually, I'm not tired," he said. "I get a lot of sleep when I can. Instead of staying up and doing other things, I get a lot of sleep."

Not that a good night's sleep is all that's needed coming off a full football season, sprinkling in basketball games before bowl preparation began in earnest and then an immediate full-time reunion with Horn's team.

During a news conference Thursday, Horn noted the two-sport workload when a reporter asked about any metaphorical rust on Ellington's basketball skills.

"I don't know if any of us can understand what it's like from Aug. 1, to be full-go practice mode with a team all the way through," Horn said, "and come out and try to do it in another sport with no break."

Without the hint of joking, Ellington suggested he'd been able to attend to his shooting touch in Orlando by flipping shots in an arcade game at the football team's bowl hotel. Something's working because he's made eight of his last nine three-point shots: five of six against Wofford on Dec. 28, then three of three against South Carolina State.

Ellington enjoyed football and basketball thrills this week.

Against Nebraska, he returned two kickoffs for 73 yards, including a 45-yarder.

"I thought I was going all the way," he said. "But some guy came — I guess he got off a block — and tackled me. I thought I was gone."Then, barely 24 hours later, and after the two car rides, Ellington, a 5-foot-9 point guard, hit the three three-pointers in a 13-minute stint against South Carolina State.

When asked to compare the football and basketball thrills, Ellington said, "It's really the same. Just getting the crowd behind you."

Ellington played his first basketball game this season on Dec. 1. Through seven games, he's averaging 9.4 points.

Though South Carolina has won six of its last seven games, with Ellington playing in all but one of those games, Horn cautioned against the assumption of cause-and-effect. Horn noted that the return of Brenton Williams from injury was also a factor in why South Carolina didn't have a full roster at practice until mid-December. With the semester break, the Gamecocks had time for practices with everyone participating.

"No question, he's been a huge part of what we're doing, and he's had a significant impact by his presence and the position he plays," Horn said of Ellington. But, the South Carolina coach added, the factors of health and added practice time can't be overlooked.

Horn lauded how Ellington has fit into the team mantra of trying to improve, individually and collectively, day by day. For instance, Ellington has improved his shot selection as evidenced by 42.9-percent three-point accuracy compared to 30.8 last season.

When asked if he was surprised at how much Ellington has contributed coming off football, Horn said, "One thing you're always going to get from Bruce is a competitive spirit, and a guy trying to play the game the right way."

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