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July 3, 2013

Ellington waits on skydiving, returns to basketball



Bruce Ellington smiled, then began laughing. It's funny now, although it didn't seem so funny immediately after the fact.

"I was like, I want to try it, too!," Ellington said on Thursday at the S.C. Pro Am.

"It" was the hair-raising moment earlier this week, when it was revealed that South Carolina starting quarterback Connor Shaw, willingly and consciously, jumped out of an airplane. Despite having his ailing foot just back to full health, and knowing that skydiving was probably not on the list of acceptable non-football activities in June, Shaw did a tandem jump, had his picture taken in mid-air, and talked about it in an interview with The State.

For what it's worth, quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus said in two separate radio interviews that he was fine with it, even joking that if Shaw tore through the SEC this season, he might go with him on his next jump. But when the word got out to the rest of the team, there were several like Ellington who said that they might want to skydive as well.

Considering that Ellington is the Gamecocks' top returning receiver, for him to enthusiastically claim that he wanted to do it will probably go over about as well as a "Go Byrnes" T-shirt in Gaffney. What's next, Jadeveon Clowney deciding to perform in the X Games?

"I don't know. I wouldn't tell (coach Steve Spurrier)," Ellington mischievously grinned. "I'd wait until they find out about it. I didn't know until I heard coach wanted to talk to (Shaw) and ask him about it. (Shaw) said he was scared because coach didn't know, but coach just asked him if he had fun."

Whether he was serious about skydiving or not, Ellington was out on Thursday for a safer passion - basketball. While he's been a regular at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School in the stands, Thursday was the first time he suited up.

Ellington didn't start but played a little over half of a game against a team featuring former Gamecocks Devan Downey and Carlos Powell, and one of his teammates was Hammond School phenom Seventh Woods. While the matchup of Woods and Downey was the highlight of the game, Ellington was there doing his usual, shaking off the rust for six points on 3-of-6 shooting, with a rebound and an assist.

Not bad for a guy who said he hasn't touched a basketball since the season ended, taking a quick break and then getting back to football conditioning. Ellington wasn't listed on any of the Pro Am rosters, but decided to play for an evening just to get the feeling back.

Those that know how Ellington just has to be out there, every possible second, on gridiron or hardwood, weren't that surprised.

"I just wanted to come out, stay in shape, get a little cardio, run with the boys," Ellington said. "I wanted to come out here and compete. I love to compete."

This summer hasn't been as intense for Ellington, who spent last summer keeping in shape for football but also spending his spare time watching DVDs from the basketball staff, detailing the nuances of Frank Martin's offense and defense. He already knows what's expected of him once he returns to the court (which could be Dec. 1, if USC isn't playing in the SEC Championship Game), and doesn't have to worry about mentally studying hoops while preparing for the grind of football.

So it's about preparing for his junior season in football, one where great things are expected, and then returning for his senior year in basketball, where he will join a big mix at the point guard spot in a year where hope is the buzzword. The Gamecocks' hoops team is reloaded with seven freshmen among eight newcomers, but with a substantial upgrade in non-conference foes, two Top-10 SEC opponents and so much unproven talent, the season may be relegated to just hoping for improvement.

Ellington will try his hardest to make sure each season is a success.

"I've been to the workouts, watched them work out," he said of the basketball newcomers. "I see them every day, sometimes I give them a ride, see them at the Dodie, see them at study hall, give them a tip every now and again. (In football), everything's going great. We want to win a championship this year, an SEC championship. Everybody's doing good."

Ellington and point guard Ty Johnson are out until December, so USC will rely on Duane Notice, Jaylen Shaw and perhaps Sindarius Thornwell to run the point until the other two can play. Ellington likes Shaw's play - the freshman is also in the Pro Am and scored 18 points with five rebounds and seven assists on Thursday - and knows that once Johnson gets back, he can supply explosiveness and direction from the point position.

As for himself on the field, he hears all the talk about how he's supposed to replace Ace Sanders, who was thought to be coming back until he quickly reversed himself and went pro, where he was drafted by Jacksonville. That's fine, but Ellington just wants to be a better version of himself.

After all, it was he, not Sanders, who caught the game-winning touchdown in the Outback Bowl, and while Sanders was expected to be good and was good, Ellington shook off an inconsistent 2012 to post 40 catches for 600 yards (the most on the team) with seven touchdowns in 2013.

"I'm going to step up and be more vocal, be a leader, get the guys ready to play," Ellington said. "But I want to be myself, not try to be someone else. I'm just trying to play my game and be the best I can be."

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