Rust is showing in Ellington, South Carolina’s two-sport star

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source: Getty ImagesLEXINGTON, Ky. – Bruce Ellington was South Carolina’s best player as a freshman.

The diminutive but obscenely athletic point guard led the team in minutes played, scoring and assists. He took 110 more field goals than anyone else on the roster and shot 65 more threes. He wasn’t only the guy that had the ball in his hands at the end of a clock, he was the guy that had the ball in his hands, period.

That is why his decision to hit the gridiron for Steve Spurrier this season was so concerning for Darrin Horn’s team. Throw in the transfers of Murphy Holloway and Ramon Galloway and the graduation of Sam Muldrow, and the Gamecocks were looking at a season with a roster stocked with youth and a star player coming off of three months worth of pounding from playing football in the SEC.

And as you might expect, there has been a bit of an adjustment period for Ellington.

“Not having played consistently for the last six months will affect whether he can make shots or not,” Horn told reporters after the Gamecock’s 79-64 loss to Kentucky on Saturday afternoon. “So we just gotta throw him out there like the other guys. Let him play and if he gets tired, pull him out.”

You could see the rust against Kentucky.

Ellington did knock down one deep three and he had a couple of nice drives to the rim, but he finished the game 3-13 from the floor. He wasn’t moving slowly and he is clearly well on his way to being in perfect basketball shape, but basketball isn’t like football, where a smaller guy is going to be able to get by on physical tools alone.

It doesn’t matter how difficult it is to stay in front of Ellington if he can’t make a defense pay for letting him penetrate.

But prior to Saturday’s game, Ellington had been on fire. Against South Carolina State on Tuesday, he was 3-5 from the floor and 3-3 from three in 13 minutes. On December 28th, Ellington went 5-7 from the floor and 5-6 from three in 25 minutes in a win over Wofford. Do the math, and Ellington had hit eight of his last nine threes heading into the Kentucky game.

“I’m getting into the rhythm now, getting into the gym and focusing on basketball,” Ellington said after the game. “I’m getting it back.”

Making that stat all the more impressive is that on Monday, Ellington had on shoulder pads and a helmet as he helped South Carolina truck Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, contributing 73 yards in his role as kick returner. One of those returns went for 45 yards.

“I thought I was going all the way,” he said during a media session on Thursday. “But some guy came — I guess he got off a block — and tackled me. I thought I was gone.”

After the game, Ellington went back to his home in Moncks Corner, SC, rather than travel back to campus with the football team. In the morning, he made the drive to the basketball team’s shootaround and officially started the 2011-2012 season as a full-time point guard. Up until now, Ellington has spent most of his time as a football player, joining up with the hoops team over the last month or so as football had some time off between the end of the regular season and their bowl appearance. During that time, Ellington was practicing and playing games with the basketball team, which, when combined with the return of Brenton Williams from an injury, means that Darrin Horn finally has a full deck.

“Not that tough, really,” Horn said when I asked him how difficult it has been to reintegrate Ellington in with this group. “He’s a phenomenal kid, a great teammate. He has the ability to come out and do what you saw today. He’s not shooting the ball well, but he had four assists and zero turnovers. That’s probably more impressive when you’re playing this kind of defense.”

The Gamecocks had a tough start to the season, losing five of their first seven games. Included in that stretch were losses to Elon, Tennessee State and USC and a squeaker against Mississippi Valley State. But prior to the Kentucky loss, USC had won six of seven, with five of those victories coming with Ellington in the lineup. While Williams’ return and the fact that Horn can now practice with a full roster have definitely factored into the recent improvement, given Ellington’s ability and the position that he plays, it would be foolish to chalk this up as simply a coincidence.

That improvement gets all the more interesting when you consider the fact that Ellington, while still rusty, has actually been better than he was last season. His offensive rating is up to 100.4 from 87.8 last year while his shooting percentages are improved across the board — 35.1 (2PT)/36.1 (3PT)/75.0 (FT) this year vs. 34.2/30.8/63.5 last season.

What happens when he, you know, isn’t rusty any more?

“You give him another two weeks, three weeks, a month, and you’re going to see a different player,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said after the game. “The other ball he was using? It was oblong. This one’s round. Now he’s using this one and he’s still out there doing the things he did.”

Whether or not that prediction comes to fruition, the one thing you can count on is the leadership and competitiveness that Ellington brings every time he sets foot on the basketball court. Five months on a football field didn’t take that away from him.

As freshman Damien Leonard said, “he’s still the same old Bruce.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.