Feb. 25, 2007
It’s first in the list of adjectives someone might use to describe Al Thornton. Both on the court and off, the senior forward does not portray himself as flashy or loud. He certainly carries a presence about him (at 6’8″ 230 it would be hard not to), but it often seems as though he wishes he could hide inside the growing shadow he casts over Florida State basketball.
But upon closer inspection, you’ll suddenly realize Thornton’s not so quiet after all. Off the court, he hams it up with his teammates and even admits at times that his boisterous behavior can get out of hand.
“Once you get to know me I’m very outgoing,” said Thornton. “I play all the time, joke all the time, sometimes to a fault.”
On the court, Thornton can be loud as well. During a recent home game against Maryland, Thornton made ESPN’s Top Ten when he made a running leap from the free-throw line to deliver the ball to the basket. In that instance, it was the fans who became quiet, awed by the uncharacteristic explosion of the team’s leading scorer.
Over three years at Florida State, Thornton has racked up a pile of increasingly impressive statistics. In the ACC, Thornton ranks in the top ten in five different categories including third in scoring (18.7 ppg) and fourth in free throw percentage (.850).
What’s more, in the Seminoles’ nine ACC games thus far, Thornton has stepped up to the level of competition expected out of one of the nation’s best basketball conferences. He has top ten finishes in seven categories during ACC-only play including first place in scoring (22.8 ppg) and first place in offensive rebounds (3.89 rpg). In addition, he has scored 20 or more points in seven of the Seminoles’ nine ACC games. That includes four games on the road in front of some of the toughest crowds in college basketball–at Duke, UNC, Georgia Tech and Boston College.
With stats like that, it might make someone wonder why Thornton isn’t donning a blue jersey somewhere on Tobacco Road. But pose the question to him and he’s quick to dismiss the idea of playing for any other school in the ACC.
“When I signed up I knew Florida State was pretty much a football school and they just wanted to build up their team,” said Thornton. “I wanted to be a part of something. I wanted to help Coach Hamilton turn this program around.”
Despite a rocky start with the round ball at age five, once he developed a relationship with basketball Thornton never looked back.
“When I first started playing it I hated it–I wanted to play football, I hated basketball. But everyone kept pushing me and after a while, I finally fell in love with it.”
And it fell in love with him. On the court, Thornton is a natural from any spot on the hardwood. Whether he’s notching free throws, blocking shots, or dunking balls, Thornton can take over from an offensive or a defensive stance with little effort.
“It comes naturally. It’s off instincts, you can’t really think on the court because the game is too fast. I put myself in game situations at practice so when it comes to the game it’s like I’ve done this a thousand times”
But Thornton’s commitment extends beyond the game, to the university where he’s played his college career. After closing out last season with an average 16.1 points a game and an astounding 208 total rebounds, Thornton could easily have moved on to the NBA but chose instead to stick with the `Noles.
“I’m close to graduating and I wasn’t quite satisfied with my playing last year. I enjoy these guys, the coaches, I wanted to stick around.”
Off the court, that commitment will pay off in April when Thornton becomes the first member of his family to graduate from college. On the court, it could pay off in the form of an NCAA Championship birth later in the season.
Although Thornton may never play again beneath the lights of the Donald L. Tucker Center after Feb. 25, he has already proven that his legacy extends beyond the civic center rafters. In a Jan. 17 game against ACC opponent Virginia Tech, Thornton shattered the house record for points scored in a half with his unbelievable 27 points and 11 rebounds in the second half. He has left little doubt that his #12 jersey will soon dangle above `Noles fans for all eternity.
But what remains to be seen is the impact Thornton will have on the professional basketball world. His list of childhood NBA favorites encompasses some of the best in the business–including a certain #23. Compared to Jordan’s last season at UNC, however, Thornton currently leads in free throw percentage (.850 to MJ’s .779) and hangs close in field goal percentage (.540 to MJ’s .551) and rebounds (153 to MJ’s 163). And Thornton’s still got seven regular-season games to play. Thornton is also a mid-season finalist for the Wooden Award, which Jordan took home during his final season at UNC.
Whether or not he thrives in the NBA, Thornton’s legend will live on at Florida State for what he has done both as an individual and as part of a team.
“It’s been frustrating at times. It’s a growing process, learning each and every day, but it’s been really fun,” said Thornton. “I feel like we’ve made some strides in improving the whole program and I feel like this year, if we get to the tournament–which is the main goal–I feel like I did my part.”
By Shannon O'Neil Florida State Sports Information