By Jeff Owens/Photo by Artie Walker
PJ Dozier and Sindarius Thornwell could make history for South Carolina Thursday night, becoming the first pair of Gamecock men's basketball players to be chosen in the same NBA draft in 41 years.
That would put them in some pretty elite company, joining South Carolina Hall of Famers Mike Dunleavy and Alex English, who were both selected in the 1976 draft.
Since the 1970s — when Dunleavy and English and Brian Winters and Kevin Joyce ruled Carolina Coliseum for head coach Frank McGuire — South Carolina has not been relevant when it comes to the NBA and the NBA Draft. Since McGuire's heyday, Columbia has not exactly been a pipeline to the NBA.
The Gamecocks have not had a player drafted since the New York Knicks stunned everyone by taking Ronaldo Balkman in the first round of the 2006 draft. Before that, it was Ryan Stack, who was taken in the second round in 1998.
In the past 30 years, South Carolina has had only four players selected in the NBA draft — Balkman, Stack, Jamie Watson (1994) and Brent Price (1992), though Price probably should not count because he transferred to Oklahoma after playing just two seasons in Columbia.
Since 1980, only 10 former South Carolina players have made it to the NBA, with most lasting only a year or two. By comparison, the Gamecocks had eight make it to the NBA or the old ABA in the 1970s, with most enjoying lengthy careers.
Dozier and Thornwell could put South Carolina back on the basketball map, just as they did when they led the Gamecocks to the Final Four this past season.
Dozier, who entered the draft after his sophomore season, is projected to be a late first-round or second-round pick, while Thornwell, the SEC Player of the Year, is expected to go somewhere in the second round.
Both have worked out for numerous teams and appear to have the skill set to stick in the NBA.
That they are in position to even be drafted is another testament to the job Frank Martin has done rebuilding the South Carolina program.
Dozier and Thornwell were the top players in the state of South Carolina and two of the top recruits in the country when Martin signed them. Over the past four years, he helped them develop into the type of elite-level players that can take a team to the NCAA Tournament and Final Four and draw the attention of professional scouts.
On Thursday night, they should get their just reward, getting drafted in the NBA and earning a chance to play professional basketball.
That's something South Carolina hasn't been able to boast about in a long time.