COLUMBIA -- Bruce Ellington has consistently said basketball is his first love. But football has a chunk of the South Carolina freshman's heart, as well.
Enough that the starting point guard made the decision last week to become a two-sport athlete for the Gamecocks.
"I decided to play football because I missed it," said the Moncks Corner native, who on Tuesday spoke for the first time since joining the football team. "I wanted to come out and try it out."
Ellington, who has been at three of the four football practices since Thursday, will remain on the sideline for now, though. An NCAA rule will prevent him from joining the team until May, after the academic year is complete.
"It's very hard watching them practice, knowing I can't be out there right now," he said.
Ellington informed receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. on March 21 that he was interested in joining the team. He then spoke with basketball coach Darrin Horn, who had prepared himself for that moment after months of hearing rumblings about Ellington's intentions.
Ellington said he didn't sense any animosity or disappointment from Horn in their meeting.
"He told me it was my decision from the beginning," Ellington said, adding that he doesn't think the sky is falling for USC's basketball program after three defections -- Ramon Galloway and Murphy Holloway, most notably -- and his decision last week.
"I don't think that at all," he said. "I think the basketball program is working on being better. We've got players coming in. Even though we've got some players leaving, we're just going to work together and continue to grow."
Ellington vowed Tuesday that he will return to the hoops team.
"Yes, sir," he said, when asked he were "100 percent sure he was going back to basketball."
Football coach Steve Spurrier has said he will allow Ellington to work out with the basketball team this summer, whenever he would like. He has also told Ellington and Horn that Ellington will be available to play basketball between the Clemson regular season finale -- or the SEC title game, if USC again reaches Atlanta -- and the potential bowl game.
Ellington led USC in scoring with 12.8 points a game. He also averaged a team-high 3.2 assists a game. But Ellington, hampered by a calf strain, struggled down the stretch, often pressing and forcing things.
After South Carolina's basketball season ended in the first round of the SEC tournament, Ellington said plainly that he had no plans to play football in 2011. He said, though, that statement was rooted in the emotions of the disappointing basketball season.
After returning home and speaking with his mother, Ellington, who helped Berkeley to the 2009 Class AAAA Division II state football title, said he decided it was a good time to give football a try.
"I told my momma that I really wanted to play," he said, adding his mother initially wanted him to stick with basketball for two seasons before exploring the idea of both sports. "She told me to pray on it, and I did that. I really wanted to come out. I told her that and she said she supported my decision."
The net is cast wide as to how Ellington might be able to impact the football team in the fall. He is being targeted as a slot receiver, but he could also help the mediocre return game. Ellington said he's also told the coaches he could be an option as a wildcat quarterback.
"I think I've got a little bit of rust," Ellington said, "but I think after I get on the field, I think I'll be all right."
Asked if Berkeley County was celebrating a bit, considering its passion for football, Ellington nodded and laughed.
"I got a lot of texts, 'Are you playing football, are you playing football?' " Ellington said. "I told them, 'yeah,' so they were pretty excited."
Like hoops, Ellington plans to wear No. 23 -- a number shared by his cousin, Clemson running back Andre Ellington.
"He said you've got no choice but to go out there and ball now," Ellington said.
South Carolina concludes spring drills next week, with the April 9 Garnet and Black Game at Williams-Brice Stadium. Ellington will officially join the team, on the field, for preseason camp in August.
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