Nov. 28, 2005
Coming off of a 2004-05 campaign that saw him post career highs in almost every statistical category, junior forward Al Thornton’s play will be a key ingredient to the overall success of this year’s edition of Florida State basketball. The 6’7″ Thornton experienced his emergence down the stretch last season averaging 10.5 points in the team’s final 10 games. He also played especially well against some of the more difficult opponents, averaging 11.5 points against teams ranked in the Top 25, including the career-high 26 he tallied in the Seminoles upset victory over then No. 3-ranked Wake Forest. The Perry, Georgia native sat down with seminoles.com last week to cover topics ranging from his role in the team’s new up-tempo offense to his experiences playing under coach Leonard Hamilton.
First off, taking a look back at last year and considering how well you guys started off (victories of NCAA Tournament teams Wake Forest and Florida), how frustrating was it to lose some of those close games later in the season, and having your record end up the way it did?
It’s very frustrating to lose that many games by such a small margin; I think it was seven or eight games by fourteen or fifteen points. It was frustrating because the talent was there and we were in the games, but we just couldn’t execute down the stretch. It was frustrating to know that we were there, but we just weren’t mentally tough enough to finish things out.
You personally came on real strong towards the end of last year, how did that momentum impact the way you went into the off-season?
It definitely gave me a lot of confidence knowing that I could go out there, contribute, and step up for my team. I’m getting older and I’m maturing. My play at the end of the season made me work that much harder during the off-season.
There’s been a lot of talk that this year you guys are going to be more of a running team. How does that suit your individual style of play?
I think it’s going to fit me well. I definitely like getting out and running and I feel like that’s the way we’re going to have to play to compete with some of the teams we are going to play this season. Nobody likes to come down with the defense already set because that makes it a lot harder for the offense to execute, so we want to come out and take advantage of our athleticism and hopefully get some easy buckets.
Going into your third season, are there any games in particular you’re looking forward to?
No not really; all of our ACC games are important so I don’t think there’s really one that I put above the others.
You seemed to have some of your best performances last year against some of the better teams you guys played (career high 26 points against Wake Forest, last-second shot to tie Georgia Tech). Have you always been a `rise to the occasion’ type player?
I’d say so a little bit. Last year I stepped up and had some big games, but I think this year my goal is to be more consistent and have those types of performances night in and night out.
With the loss of Anthony Richardson, Adam Waleskowski, and Von Wafer it looks as though you’re going to be looked to this year as one of the go-to-guys. Is there any added pressure there for you in assuming that new role?
I don’t think so. I think it’s more a matter of me knowing what I’ve got to do and it’s something I love doing. I just have to go out there and get it done.
You, Isaiah, Jason, AJ and Ralph have been together now for a full year. How important is that familiarity and comfort level and how will it effects the results this season?
I think it’s important because we know each other and we get along well off the court. The chemistry is that much better. We know each other’s games too and we know how to play into each other’s strengths on the court. In certain situations, it will help us a lot, because we know each other’s sweet spots and I think over the course of the season you will see a difference.
What’s it like playing for Coach Hamilton who has been to the highest level and enjoyed success everywhere he’s been? What do you learn from him day in and day out?
One of the main things he’s taught me is that if you’re not getting the job done, he’s not going to play you because he wants you to do things right. He wants you to do everything right and even if it hurts the team, we’ll learn from it in the long run.
By Jonathan Butnick Sports Information Assistant