COLUMBIA - Whenever Bruce Ellington showed up to the gym, South Carolina freshman Duane Notice saw what it took to be a successful college basketball player.
The Gamecocks guard observed his senior teammate, taking mental notes. He watched the way Ellington carried himself during drills, the seriousness and focus and attention to detail.
"He brought that leadership that our team is kind of lacking in certain areas. The aspects of playing the point guard position that I'm not naturally used to playing," Notice said on the eve of South Carolina's first SEC game - 7 p.m. Wednesday at Florida.
"Whenever we had practice and I made a mistake or he thought I could've done something better, he always pulled me to the side and let me know his opinion on what he would've done in that situation. Just watching him play, he always goes hard. The fact that he takes it so seriously whether it's not his first sport, it just kind of inspired me and enabled me to play better."
Ellington wasn't always around the basketball program, tied to his duties as a receiver on the Gamecocks' football team. He played only three games this season, averaging 5.7 points and 1.7 assists.
South Carolina will still miss its senior as it begins SEC play against the No. 10 Gators. Ellington was practically a coach on the floor for a young team that has seven freshmen and five sophomores.
Ellington tweeted his goodbye to Columbia on Tuesday morning. Gamecocks basketball coach Frank Martin said he hasn't spoken with his former player since he made the decision to leave school early to enter the NFL draft. Martin said he believes Ellington has left campus.
"He's one of those kids that selfishly as a coach, you want to coach him every day," Martin said. "His spirit, his enthusiasm, his toughness, all those nice adjectives, charisma - he embodies all that. When you get around people like that, you don't ever want to stop coaching them. You want to coach them more."
Yet, Martin didn't try to talk Ellington out of leaving the team. His message was clear, simply telling the two-sport athlete to follow his heart. When Ellington said his heart was tugging toward the NFL, the conversation quickly switched to getting ready for the next phase in life. Martin offered whatever advice he could.
Without Ellington, South Carolina will have an unexpected void to fill during SEC play. Martin has said the senior was great for his locker room, a leader and role model.
"He's one of those guys that, he's always pulling guys to the right side of the fence," Martin said. "Not having that is going to hurt our team until other guys figure it out. Hopefully his residue will continue to impact some of our guys to fight for what he showed us in those 10 practices or whatever he was at.
"We should all feel lucky here at this school that we were able to watch and be a part of such a special young man. I don't think it's any surprise that the three years he plays football, they win 11 games every year."
His teammates are among the most thankful.
Senior guard Brenton Williams said he also learned a lot from Ellington, especially with how to lead a team. Now that Ellington's gone, the void will be placed on Williams and transfer Tyrone Johnson to guide and direct.
"That's just definitely me and Ty's job, to encourage the young guys and not let them get psyched out," said Williams, who has averaged 18.25 points per game over South Carolina's current four-game winning streak. "Encourage them to keep their minds to stay the course and not get distracted."
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