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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Biding time begets better player
Bypassing the NBA for an NCAA Tournament shot has paid off for Al Thornton and FSU.
By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published March 8, 2007
TAMPA - Florida State senior forward Al Thornton's play this season has prompted a run on adjectives - "dazzling" and "breath-taking" come to mind - but the one that might best capture his essence is one you may not have heard at all:
Had he not shown that uncommon trait on two key occasions during his career, Thornton wouldn't be in garnet and gold today, leading the Seminoles against Clemson in an ACC tournament opener at the St. Pete Times Forum that could be essentially an NCAA Tournament elimination game.
"We're not there yet, but we're going to get there. I really believe that," Thornton said of the NCAA bid that has eluded FSU's grasp since 1998. "That was one of the main reasons I didn't leave last year."
He had plenty of folks whispering, some shouting, in his ear that he was NBA-ready and should declare for the draft and take that last, big step toward realizing his lifelong dream.
"I love the game so much I was really leaning toward doing that," the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Thornton said. "But at the same time, I had to be real with myself and know that I had things I needed to work on."
Despite a breakout season as a junior, he hadn't really developed the perimeter game, either as a shooter or a ballhandler, he'd need to make it as a pro. So despite the temptation, despite the chatter, he exercised restraint.
He was, simply, being Al.
"I think I'm more patient than most people," he said with a shrug.
"Al has been grounded since Day 1, and a lot of that has to be attributed to his parents, who have given him the solid foundation on how to make decisions," coach Leonard Hamilton said. "He's always had things in the proper perspective."
Practice, practice, practice
Thornton, 23, graduated from Perry Ga. High in 2002 and was the first player Hamilton recruited when he took over the foundering program. Thornton, wooed by Cincinnati, Kentucky and Georgia, signed with FSU that summer but didn't qualify. Instead of panicking and perhaps heading to a prep school, he studied, improved his test score and enrolled at FSU in December.
With so much of the season left, almost anyone else would have begged and badgered his coach to let him play.
Instead, he decided to bide his time, not squander an entire season of eligibility for a few minutes here and there and work as hard as he could to figure out the offense and defense.
It took a bit of time.
Not that it bothered him.
As a redshirt junior last season, he averaged 16.1 points and 6.9 rebounds. He then spent the offseason working on his 3-point shot and dribbling skills, studying tape of his own game and that of his opponents. He has emerged as one of the nation's top players.
"He's been coachable and he's worked his butt off to get better each and every day, and that's one reason why he's exceeded a lot of folks' expectations," Hamilton said.
Thornton enters the ACC tournament this season as the league's top scorer, averaging 20.1 points on 52.9 percent shooting from the field (30-of-67, or 44.8 percent, from 3-point range) and 82.2 percent from the line. He also averages a team-high 7.2 rebounds.
"He's unguardable," said Miami coach Frank Haith, who saw Thornton score a career-high 45 in FSU's overtime win last weekend. "He does everything. I think he's the most talented player in our league."
Thornton was a unanimous selection as first-team All-ACC and was runner-up to Boston College's Jared Dudley for ACC player of the year honors.
"He's come a long way, there's no doubt about it," said former FSU standout Irving Thomas, a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers. "His game has developed, and it was a good decision to stay in school and be patient. You don't see that a lot anymore. ... It showed a level of maturity on his part."
Another fitting adjective for Thornton you don't hear often enough. And should.