The three South Carolina men's basketball seniors have had a constant theme all season long. They've treated this year like a farewell tour, modeling it after Kobe Bryant's farewell tour the season he called it quits for the Los Angeles Lakers.
On Tuesday, Feb. 28, the trio of Gamecocks will have one of the biggest moments of the farewell tour. That night's home game against Mississippi State is Senior Night for South Carolina. With the Gamecocks likely to make the NCAA Tournament, Tuesday's game will be the final time Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice and Justin McKie play in front of the Gamecock faithful at Colonial Life Arena.
"Those guys are powerful dudes," head coach Frank Martin said of the three seniors. "They signed up for something hard, and when it got hard they never once winced (or) gave in. I don't promise anyone anything but that I will give them every ounce of my energy so they never feel like they ever got cheated for a single day during their college time."
When the trio of seniors signed with South Carolina, the Gamecocks were in the midst of a rebuild. Martin was a new coach who was tasked with bringing the Gamecocks up from the bottom of the SEC.
Four years later, South Carolina is coming off a 25-win season and is in the midst of another special year that will likely result in the program's first NCAA Tournament berth in nearly 15 years. All three players could've gone to a lot of other places, but chose to start something special at South Carolina.
"I've enjoyed it a lot," McKie said. "It's something that I will cherish for the rest of my life. All four years, but this year definitely. Playing alongside Duane and Sin is fun."
Thornwell has had a fantastic season to date and is the current frontrunner to be named the SEC's Player of the Year. He's had to fight injury problems for most of his time at South Carolina, and Martin has enjoyed watching the healthy Thornwell do his thing.
"It's been fun to watch," Martin said of Thornwell's tremendous season. "I pride myself a lot when I go home, regardless of the scoreboard, on making sure that our guys are getting better. I'm real happy that he's had the year he's had.
"If you gave him a choice – postseason basketball or Player of the Year, he's going to choose postseason basketball every single time," Martin said. "I'm trying to get him both."
The Gamecocks are coming off an 82-55 win over Tennessee that put to bed a stretch of four losses in five games. The team is hopeful that the win over the Vols gets the Gamecocks back on track after rising all the way up to first place in the SEC earlier in the month.
Martin was proud to see how his team responded after their first big bit of adversity faced this year.
"What those losses did is I really think it showed me who those kids are," Martin said.
South Carolina will look to keep the momentum going against a scrappy Mississippi State squad. An extremely young team, the Bulldogs have the ability to get hot and beat a lot of teams.
However, with three seniors like Thornwell, Notice and McKie, you can be assured that the Gamecocks will come into the game prepared. They know what it took to get where they are now, and they don't plan on falling down the mountain any time soon.
"When Frank sat in my living room in Toronto, he just told me he wasn't going to make any promises, but he had a goal in mind and this was definitely one of the goals – making the program relevant," Notice said.
Tipoff between the Gamecocks and Bulldogs is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, and can be seen nationally on ESPNU. Senior Night festivities will start around 6:40, so make sure to get to your seat early.
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Jenny Dilworth**