COLUMBIA -- Bruce Ellington made sure to get plenty of rest Sunday night. He had to be up bright and early Monday morning for South Carolina's 6:30 basketball practice, just two days after he finished his first regular season as a wide receiver for USC's football team.
Ellington, a sophomore point guard from Berkeley High who led the Gamecocks in scoring last season, arrived a few minutes early for Monday's practice and went through his usual routine of getting taped and dressed.
His teammates knew he would return at some point this week, but weren't sure if he'd show up Monday morning. When they saw him, they greeted him with a chorus of "Bruuuuuce!" After missing the first six games because of football, Ellington will hear that often tonight when South Carolina hosts Providence. He won't start -- his roommate, Eric Smith, will -- but expect to see him early.
"I missed it a lot," Ellington said.
The Gamecocks (2-4) could certainly use him. They began the season with small forward Lakeem Jackson playing the point. The past three games, Jackson came off the bench, and Smith, a natural point guard, started there. Ellington attended some games this season and watched the Gamecocks struggle without him.
"It's been tough just being out there and not being able to help the team, and knowing you can help the team," he said.
Coach Darrin Horn said Ellington has gotten back into basketball shape better than he expected. But there will be rust to knock off, Horn said, especially with "ball handling and feel and kind of rhythm with some stuff, seeing things as quickly as he's going to."
Forward Malik Cooke, USC's lone senior, said Ellington is just trying to ease his way back in this week.
"I don't think he's coming in right away trying to do everything," Cooke said, "because he doesn't really know everything that's going on right now, because he's been out."
To that end, Ellington has spent extra time the past few days watching video with assistant coach Mike Boynton, in order to get a better grasp of the Gamecocks' offensive and defensive plan as he prepares for his basketball debut.
"I'm sure he's a little nervous," Smith said. "But he'll be all right once he gets out there."
At the very least, he adds an extra body to a backcourt that lost depth when reserve Brenton Williams sprained his left knee Nov. 20, an injury that was expected to sideline him for two to four weeks. Maybe he won't be the Ellington of last year at first. He averaged 12.8 points last year and was named to the Southeastern Conference's all-freshman team. But with his return, this team is closer to whole again.
"I think he brings you a certain presence and energy, because our guys know what he can do," Horn said. "And he has a certain confidence about him, as we've all seen."
At some point, Ellington expects to decide whether he will try to play two sports again next season or just pick one. There is no timetable for that decision, he said, adding, "I'm just going with the flow."
Horn said he isn't worried about any of that right now.
"He may play hockey next year," Horn joked. "Good for him. We're going to do what we always do with Bruce. We're going to support him and stand by him. If we want to create a hockey team and make him the feature, then God bless him. We'll support him."
Ellington's football season isn't over just yet. The Gamecocks, ranked 14th with a 10-2 record after last weekend's 34-13 victory over Clemson, find out Sunday which bowl game they will be playing in next month. Football coach Steve Spurrier said Ellington will split time between football and basketball leading up to the bowl.
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