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Thornton takes over as a leader

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published January 19, 2006


No one had to tell Florida State's Al Thornton the score.

A young basketball team had lost its offensive leader, guard Von Wafer, early to the NBA draft and its rebounding leader, forward Adam Waleskowski, to graduation.

"Coming into the season," said Thornton, a junior forward who was second in scoring and rebounding a year ago, "I knew that I was going to have to be a leader and I was going to have to step my game up."

So, he logged extra time in the gym, trying to fortify and diversify his game.

For results check the scoreboard.

Entering Sunday night's game against North Carolina, Thornton's averaging a career-high 16.9 points, which is ninth in the ACC and the highest mark for a Seminole since Tim Pickett put up 17.1 in 2002-03.

He already has had a 31-point outburst against Alcorn State and then went off for 37 against Boston College on Saturday. In the ACC, only Duke's J.J. Redick and Wake Forest's Justin Gray have had multiple games of 31 or more.

"He works at his game as much as any player I've ever seen," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "A guy with that kind of attitude, you know he's going to continue to keep getting better."

Thornton isn't just driving to the basket. He's hitting from everywhere. He has made 8 of 15 3-pointers, which is one more long-range shot than he made in his first two seasons combined. He's shooting career-bests from the field (58.5 percent), from 3-point range (53.3 percent) and from the line (73.8 percent).

In last weekend's 90-87 loss at B.C., Thornton hit an eye-popping 15 of 18 shots.

"I'm being more assertive," said Thornton, who's fourth in the ACC in rebounding (7.8). "It's something I can do. I'm just recognizing my potential."

STRANGE SETTING: Women's basketball coach Sue Semrau chuckled when FSU radio announcer Ryan Pensy ended his postgame interview Monday by promoting FSU's game tonight against Clemson.

It's actually in Tallahassee, which will be FSU's third time at home in a 10-game span. After that the Seminoles (10-6, 1-2 ACC) hit the road again for three more league games: No. 4 North Carolina on Sunday, Virginia on Jan. 29 and Georgia Tech on Feb. 2.

For those scoring at home, FSU will play five of its first seven ACC games away from home. "For us having a December that was scheduled on the road so much already and then to have January on the road makes it a little bit more difficult," Semrau said. "Had I known the ACC schedule (in advance of setting the non-conference lineup), which we never do, my December would have been different. That's just the way everything falls. ... Ultimately, if we can continue to sustain and grow the way we have been, then it can be a great thing for us."

NUMBERS GAME: NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has linebacker Ernie Sims, who decided last week to bolt early, rated No. 20 on his "Big Board" of 25 prospects.

GETTING NOTICED: Tight end Matt Henshaw had two catches for a game-high 48 yards in the Las Vegas All-American Classic last weekend. Along with fullback James Coleman (1-yard TD run), he helped the East to a 41-3 win.

ANOTHER CHANCE: Placekicker Xavier Beitia, the former Jesuit High star, signed with the Bucs and will be allocated to Europe. "I'm glad the Buccaneers have decided to bring me in," he said. "But the big thing is to make that 53-man roster. I'm excited now, but I'll really feel like I've accomplished something when I make the 53-man roster." The Bucs also signed former offensive lineman Todd Williams, who was released by Tennessee mid season.

ACCLAIM: After helping the women's team reach the national semifinals, Mick Statham was named South Region assistant of the year by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

Brian Landman covers Florida State athletics. Reach him at 813 226-3347 or by e-mail at landman@sptimes.com