USC's Bruce Ellington to play basketball and football
COLUMBIA -- The whispers in Moncks Corner had grown in number and volume since December.
One of Berkeley County's best athletes had left the area to be South Carolina's point guard. But would Bruce Ellington ever consider playing for Steve Spurrier?
The answer came Thursday, as evidenced by the freshman's presence at USC's spring football practice. Ellington, who will join the football team this summer, intends to play both sports for the Gamecocks.
"From what I understand, he wants to play football next year," Spurrier said. "We'll go about it that way and give him an opportunity."
Ellington scampered out the field's side door Thursday, but he told The Post and Courier in January that he could not close the door on his football career.
"I think about it a lot," Ellington said. "I can't lie to you. I do think about playing football."
Ellington contacted receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. earlier in the week, expressing interest after months of considering the move. Ellington then informed basketball coach Darrin Horn, who had been bracing for this possibility for some time.
Horn has encouraged Ellington to follow his heart, but Horn also knows how destructive and disruptive the decision could be for Ellington's basketball development if he splits his time between the sports.
Ellington led the Gamecocks in scoring (12.8 points per game) and assists (3.2) as a freshman, but his productivity and efficiency slipped toward the end of the season. A calf injury in mid-February led to some of the decline. For the season, he shot 32.6 percent from the floor and 30.8 percent from 3-point range.
"From the first time I met Bruce I knew playing both sports in college was a possibility and we support him in every way we can," Horn said in a release. "We hope he has a lot of success in football and look forward to having him back next year for basketball."
The football team is targeting Ellington as a slot receiver who could take snaps at quarterback and also return punts and kickoffs.
"We'll get into all that a little later," Spurrier Jr. said. "We think somewhere on offense is where he should play."
Spurrier Jr. conceded the coaches aren't exactly sure how to use Ellington until they see him on the practice field.
They thought that would be this week, but the staff learned that an NCAA rule prohibits signees in basketball's early period from participating in another sport until after the player's first academic year.
Ellington can attend practices and work out on his own, using strength coach Craig Fitzgerald's recommendations, but he cannot participate in team activities until May.
There's some confidence that Ellington can be a dynamic addition to an offense that already includes All-America candidates in receiver Alshon Jeffery and running back Marcus Lattimore.
"Oh, yeah," Spurrier said, "he can help us."
Ellington was a combination back his junior season at Berkeley before leading the Stags to a state title in 2009 as a senior quarterback who inflicted a lot of damage with his legs. Most considered him the second-best high school player in the state that season, behind Lattimore.
"Based on high school, we think he can be a great player," Spurrier Jr. said. "That's all we know right now. Obviously, when you watch him play basketball, he's explosive and athletic and talented. He's an SEC-proven athlete now. I'd like to hope he could be a great one."
Berkeley football coach Jerry Brown attended the Gamecocks' practice Thursday, giving his support to Ellington's decision. The veteran coach has long said the 5-9, 200-pound Ellington is the best player he's ever seen, on his or any other team.
"Berkeley High School coaches, and our opponents, really understand how good Bruce is," Brown said. "I think a lot of other people have heard about it, but I don't think they understand how great he could be. It's going to be exciting to see him kind of come forward, to see him contribute."
One of the residual questions is what will become of Ellington's basketball career. The possibility remains that Ellington could at some point choose to play only football.
Spurrier Jr. said Ellington's quality academic record and maturity make it possible for him to play two sports, a growing rarity in college athletics.
"He doesn't have to make that decision now," Brown said. "He's given basketball a try. He misses football. It's as simple as that."
Ellington wore a big smile Thursday afternoon as he dribbled a football and watched USC's receivers run through drills.