COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell apologized to his teammates and fans after his reinstatement Monday without shedding light on why he was suspended for the past six games for an unspecified violation of athletic department policy.
Thornwell, the team's top scorer and rebounder, will return when the Gamecocks (10-3) open Southeastern Conference play at Georgia on Wednesday night.
"I don't want to go into details about it," he said when asked about the reason for his suspension.
Thronwell was arrested last May and charged with marijuana possession and driving with a suspended license. His suspension was announced Dec. 4.
"I accept full responsibility for my actions," he said. "I am humbled and excited to be back on the court with my brothers and excited about conference play."
So is South Carolina, which was 7-0 with wins over Michigan and Syracuse and ranked No. 20 with Thornwell in the lineup. The Gamecocks have gone 3-3, including a loss at Memphis last Friday, and have fallen from the rankings in his absence.
Thornwell should be in the starting lineup when the Gamecocks face Georgia, coach Frank Martin said.
Martin said he and athletic director Ray Tanner reviewed Thornwell's suspension and found that the player had done everything he was asked and deserved reinstatement.
Thornwell's absence speeded up the learning curve for Martin's roster, which features nine first-year players. Martin said sophomore PJ Dozier, the starting point guard, and sophomore Chris Silva, starting forward, had to raise their games with Thornwell on the bench.
Newcomers like guards Rakym Felder and Hassani Gravett also have benefited from increased playing time with Thornwell out.
"I really, really like what I've seen from our guys there the last six games," Martin said.
Thornwell has averaged 18.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in seven games. With the senior in the lineup, the Gamecocks defeated then-ranked opponents Michigan and Syracuse in the same week. Without Thornwell, South Carolina lost tight games to Seton Hall (67-64) at Madison Square Garden, rival Clemson (62-60) at home and to Memphis (70-54).
"It was difficult for me to watch," said Thornwell, who continued practicing with the team during his suspension. "But the team grew and I grew from the sidelines."
With Thronwell back, the Gamecocks once more have the reigning SEC defensive player of the year, who was voted a first-team all-SEC preseason performer by league coaches. Thornwell is South Carolina's best at driving to the basket, Martin said, something that was lacking at times in a few of their losses.
Thornwell's return should also open up some space for South Carolina's outside shooters like fellow senior Duane Notice, who was 0-for-8 in the Memphis loss. Notice is averaging 10 points a game this season.
"He's able to penetrate and get so much attention," Notice said of Thornwell. "It kind of helps our game tremendously."
Thornwell believes his practicing the past month with teammates should keep the rust from lack of playing to a minimum. He also knows it helped him maintain his leadership role with his younger teammates. "I made a mistake. I take responsibility for it," he said. "But during these past six games, I still led from the sidelines. I still remained positive. I still let my voice be heard."