HUNTERS import Austin Thornton was named the Waratah Basketball League most valuable player on Wednesday and appears headed for the next move in a late-blooming career.
But the former Michigan State swingman won’t be satisfied unless the Hunters can win a championship.
Minor premiers, the Hunters play Manly in the semi-final at Hills Basketball Stadium on Saturday evening. Norths tackle Hills in the other semi-final. The winners meet on Sunday.
Thornton, from Cedar Springs, spent five years at US Collegiate powerhouse Michigan State University.
He was a part of the Spartans side that was runner-up in the 2009 NCAA championships in front of 72,456 people in Detroit and also went to the “Final Four” and “Sweet 16” during a stellar career.
“It has been six or so years now since I have had the chance to compete for a championship,” Thornton said. “Obviously this is a different level, but still a season worth of hard work, energy and effort by this group of guys. We have put ourselves in a good position. We finished the regular season in top spot and are playing a team we beat by 20 the first time and were down by 25 until the final few minutes in the last game. It will be an interesting match up.”
Thornton was a role player at college, but has been integral for the Hunters.
He leads the league in scoring, draining 461 points at an average of 27 per game, is second in free-throw percentages at 81.95, is the leading defensive rebounder (199) and second in total rebounds (242).
The Hunters dominated the awards, winning three of the four. Captain Josh Morgan was the defensive player of the year and Jacob Foy the youth player of the year.
“Statistically, we have done very well, but more importantly we have won a lot of games,”Thornton said. “Every basketballer wants to put up good numbers, wants to score, wants to rebound, wants to get assists and steals. But you don’t want to do that and sacrifice winning. The ultimate goal is to win. That has been my goal from the beginning. We are 17-3. We have turned it around from last season, where I think the team was 3-17.”
Coach Darren Nichols rates Thornton in the “top few” imports in Hunters history.
“There have been more athletic players but, in terms of the overall game, he is one of the best we have had,” Nichols said. “He is a very dedicated individual and comes from a great college program. He will go on to bigger and better things.”
Thornton, who turned 30 this month, is in his first year back playing after three years in the workforce and two on the Spartans coaching staff, was coy on his future.
“I am a big believer in enjoying the here and the now,” he said. “Newcastle took a chance on me. They gave me an opportunity to come and play with no prior professional experience. Thankfully, I feel like I have been able to live up to my end of the contract.”
As for the final series.
“If we play hard – with effort, energy and tenacity at both ends of the court – that is a good barometer for success,” he said.
“We have some pretty good personnel, and we finished top for a reason. The games we lost this season boiled down to not quite showing up effort wise.”
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