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Area basketball teams count on key players in postseason

Where there's hope, there is usually a star in high school sports.

For local basketball, the stars for the three remaining teams in the state playoffs are Clover girls' Bria Huffman, Lancaster's Sindarius Thornwell and Great Falls' Xavier Holmes. Huffman was named to the Class AAAA all-state team. Thornwell was Class AAAA's player of the year, and Holmes Class A's co-player of the year.

Thornwell, a 6-foot-4, 180-pound junior shooting guard, has caught the eye of national recruiters.

As of Jan. 25, ESPN's Recruiting Nation Basketball website, reported that Thornwell has offers from Georgia, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Charlotte, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Thornwell and his Bruins teammates are on the road tonight at 7 p.m. against the Dorman Cavaliers in Class AAAA Upper State play. The winner plays the victor between Irmo and Gaffney at Greenville's Bi-Lo Center on Friday at 8:30 p.m. for a berth in the state title game.

Huffman, a 5-foot-10 dynamo can play any position of the court. She and the Blue Eagles are home tonight at 7 p.m. against Dutch Fork. The winner will play Dorman, which was a 64-60 winner over Greenwood on Monday night, at the Bi-Lo Center on Friday at 6 p.m. with the same stakes as the boys on the line.

Great Falls is on the road and plays a familiar foe in Calhoun County, coached by former South Carolina basketball player Zam Fredrick Holmes, whose former players include Zam Fredrick Jr. and Alshon Jeffery.

Holmes a 6-foot-5, 205 pounder, has drawn recruiters' interest but not on the level Thornwell has. It seems to be that way for Great Falls players. Way back, Danny Strong eventually landed at N.C. State, and later Antwon Coleman played at Charlotte. Both started at junior colleges.

Two years ago, several Division I programs showed interest in Torrey Craig, but backed off. He's a sophomore at USC-Upstate and is lighting it up. Craig was the conference's freshman of the year last season and will likely by the player of the year this season.

"We had some (bigger schools) look at him," Great Falls coach John Smith. "Interest will pick up again at the all-star game. He'll be seen by junior colleges, prep schools and schools at lower levels.

"We know he's going to go out and get us 20.3 points and 11 boards a game. He has a chance to get to where he wants to go in the future."

Holmes is undecided on which way to go, but will take some visits after the South Carolina's all-stars meet North Carolina's in March.

"I might go to junior college if the fit is right, but I would go to a small, four-year school like Torrey did because I'd like to stay in the same place all four years," he said. "But right now I have to worry about the next game.

"Me and my teammates are ready to play. Any time Calhoun County is mentioned in Great Falls, it gets people excited. They have become our rival in the playoffs and both teams knows the other well."

Holmes was off his game at the state championships his sophomore year. He couldn't hit a wall with the basketball that day.

He went back with fire in his eyes last year, determined to play his game and show the fans in Columbia what they had missed. He publicly promised he would do better, and Holmes was the difference in the game with 18 points and ruling the boards in a 53-50 win over Burke.

Great Falls is 24-1 this season -- the loss 41-40 against Charlotte's South Mecklenburg in Northwestern's Moody Holiday Classic -- and has played in the last three Class A championship games. But the Red Devils are not looking past Calhoun County.

The powerhouses have met in the playoffs six times since 2005, and Calhoun County leads 5-1. The Saints have won in four quarterfinals, and once each in the Upper State and state championship.

Great Falls won 47-44 in last year's quarters on its way to its seventh championship in 17 tries under Smith.

"There are no Alshons, and instead of 6-foot-1 wings, their guys are 5-foot-10," Smith said. "But they still play the same 'Zam' ball, pressing all over the court, running the break and scoring off their defense.

"They are still physical and try to take you out of your game and sets. If you get caught standing, they are gone."

The winner plays either McCormick or Landrum at the Bi-Lo Center on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. But take it to the bank: neither team is looking that far into the future.