Who would make South Carolina's all-time starting 5?
Editor’s note: SDS is selecting an all-time starting 5 for every SEC team as we gear up for March Madness.
South Carolina men’s basketball has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years, from unseating a top-ranked team in Kentucky in 2010, to reaching the Final Four last season.
Along the way, some of the key players of those teams have reset the debate about the all-time starting 5 among all Gamecock teams.
There is at least some consensus among those who have followed the program for many years. But recent stars Devan Downey and Sindarius Thornwell bring a twist to the debate.
Rick Henry is a South Carolina graduate, and has been the sports director at WIS-TV, an NBC affiliate in Columbia, S.C. since 1996. Phil Kornblut has hosted a sports radio show for three decades that has aired across the state.
Henry and Kornblut each agree that an all-time list must start with John Roche, a three-time All-American, Tom Owens, who had 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds, Alex English, who averaged 17.8 points and 9.6 rebounds for his career, and the program’s all-time leading scorer, B.J. McKie.
“Any all-time USC starting 5 would have to have Roche, Owens, English and McKie,” Kornblut said.
Henry added that Roche’s 82 percent mark from the foul line was a key factor in the pre-shot clock era.
“Put the ball in Roche’s hands with the lead,” Henry said, “teams would have to foul and Roche would put the game on ice.”
Henry said he was a student when English starred for the Gamecocks, and he never saw him have a bad game. English averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds as a senior.
“Alex was Mr. Consistency, saving his best for last,” Henry said.
Devan Downey, the pint-sized point guard and scoring dervish, who was on the team that upset top-ranked Kentucky, is an honorable mention selection. He was a first-team All-SEC pick and averaged nearly 20 points per game in 2008-09.
The late Grady Wallace is another top player in the conversation for the top 5. Wallace, who died in 2006, was named All-American in 1957 when he led the nation in scoring with 31.3 points per game. Highlights that season included scoring 54 points at Georgia, second most in school history to Roche’s 56 points against Furman in 1971.
Kevin Joyce is one more all-time player in the elite discussion. He was, of course, the player most remembered for a pep talk from coach Frank McGuire. Facing a jump ball against 6-foot-10 North Carolina center Lee Dedmon, McGuire told Joyce to “jump to the moon, Kevin,” and it worked as he won the tip to Owens, who scored the winning basket for the 1971 ACC tournament championship. Joyce, another All-America, had 1,400 points in his career.
Here is South Carolina’s all-time starting 5:
John Roche (1969-71)
A three-time All-American, Roche is the third-leading career at 1,910, and is second in career scoring average at 22.5 points per game. He also averaged 82 percent from the foul line in his career. He led the Gamecocks to their only conference tournament title — the 1971 ACC crown.
Alex English (1973-76)
Before English, a Hall of Famer, was the NBA’s most prolific scorer during the 1980s, the Columbia, S.C., native averaged 14.6, 18.3, 16.0 and 22.6 points each season in his career. His 1,972 career points were the most in program history when he graduated; he’s now second behind McKie.
What’s more, he shot 54 percent from the field during his career. English also is the only South Carolina player to start every game (111) of his college career.
BJ Mckie (1996-99)
A first-team All-SEC pick, McKie was on the team that won the SEC title in 1997. Most notably, he’s the Gamecocks’ all-time leading scorer with 2,119 points. He appeared in two NCAA Tournaments, and was third all-time in program history with 123 career games played.
Tom Owens (1969-71)
If nothing else, his trademark stat of the only South Carolina basketball player to score 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in three seasons. Some believe he was overshadowed by Roche, while there’s also a sentiment that Owens made Roche better. He’s one of five Gamecocks to post 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds. An All-SEC pick, Owens led the lead in rebounding three straight years, and he averaged 15.8 points and 13.3 rebounds.
Sindarius Thornwell (2013-2017)
The SEC Player of the Year as a senior, Thornwell was the best player on the program’s only Final Four team. Thornwell is third on the program’s all-time scoring list, just 31 points behind English. Sindarius also led the team in scoring and rebounding his senior year. In five NCAA Tournament games, he helped averaged 23.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, including 24 each against Duke and Baylor. He was also named the East Region’s Most Outstanding Player.
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