In early September, junior guard Tyler Thornton verbally committed to Duke University along with his AAU teammate, Josh Hairston. This past weekend the Gonzaga playmaker headed to the birthplace of basketball, Springfield, Massachusetts, where he led his team to a victory over repeat
New England Prep School champions, St. Mark’s, which features a pair of elite level big men in 6’10″ Erik Murphy (Florida) and 6’8″ Nate Lubick (Georgetown). After the hard-fought victory, Tyler spoke with Blue Devil Nation about topics ranging from what the Duke coaches have asked him to work on and a scouting report on Josh Hairston to Kendall Marshall and his mother, the future loudest Cameron Crazy. Enjoy the interview -
Blue Devil Nation: One of the things that your coach Steve Turner has talked about is your leadership. He’s mentioned since you walked through the door as a freshman, you’ve been Gonzaga’s leader. Was that a conscious effort on your part to establish that early on or more of a natural aspect of your personality?
Tyler Thornton: It was more of a natural thing. Coming in, before high school, I was always the biggest guy and most likely the best player on my team.
BDN: Setting the tone early?
TT: Yeah, and then after a while, they just understand that’s how you play. When I came here my freshman year, it was a natural thing. I would say my first couple of games I was just nervous, but then the guys, you know, the guys they was just picking me up.
BDN: People like Max Kenyii?
TT: Yeah, Max Kenyii who’s going to Harvard. They were looking for me to be the vocal leader on the team and run the team. The biggest thing that they trusted me.
BDN: Did you start as a freshman at point guard or off guard?
TT: Freshman year, I started midway through the season as the point guard.
BDN: Do you consider yourself to be a vocal leader, one who leads through actions, or both?
TT: More of a vocal leader You know I always talk on offense and defense making sure everybody’s where they’re supposed to be at. You know that just makes it a lot easier for us as a team and for the coaches on the sidelines so that they don’t have to yell every single thing from the sidelines.
BDN: One of the other attributes that comes up a lot with you is winner. The Assault team won seven large tournaments in a row until Akron then you won the Bob Gibbons, and then you ultimately won the MVP at the big tournament in Vegas at the end of the summer. Gonzaga has been now 49-3 over the past two years with you running the show in the WCAC, arguably one of the toughest conferences in the nation. What do you attribute that to?
TT: You know that’s something I can’t do on my own. You’ve got to trust your teammates and they trust you. Guys are building chemistry and you’re just loving playing with each other.
BDN: Both teams.
TT: Yeah, that’s for both teams. We enjoy playing with each other. You know everybody loves to win so, you know, they’re gonna sacrifice and that’s what its all about.
BDN: There’s nothing more important. At the end of the day, these guys (St. Marks) are walking past us with their heads down.
TT: Exactly, exactly
BDN: What do you consider to be your greatest strength right now?
Tyler Thornton: Right now, defensively, Id like to get in my mans face.
BDN: You’re very intense defensively.
TT: Yeah, and I like to play help side defense too. On this team, they look to me for offense, but, as you can see, other guys step up and, if they’re on fire, I’m gonna definitely get them the ball. You know, I can score on offense, but, if someone else is on fire, I’m gonna get it to them.
BDN: What would you like to work on before you arrive at Duke?
TT: You know especially now, when I’m working towards college, its my three point shot. That’s what Coach K told me he’d like me to be able to knock them down.
BDN: I didn’t think I saw you shoot one today.
TT: I didn’t.
BDN: But you’re working on it.
TT: Yes, yes.
BDN: What, if anything else, has the Duke coaching staff asked you to work on? Either in terms of on the court or with your body.
TT: Besides the three point shot, you know, Coach Collins was telling me you know how there were those lanky guys that were real big and I couldn’t really finish around them
BDN: (laughs) I saw you covering (Erik) Murphy on that one possession.
TT:(laughs) Yeah, yeah. You saw around the basket how I tried to use my floater. I didn’t hit today, but that was one thing he told me to work on, especially in college cause everyone’s big and everybody’s getting on the glass so, you know, work on the floater.
BDN: Whats your favorite move right now?
TT: Move? As in offense, I cant tell you. (laughs)
BDN: Alright, alright. Thats’ fair. What players do you try to emulate your game after?
TT: You know I just try to take a little bit from everybody. Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, Nolan Smith. I play a similar position as Now.
BDN: You’re both D.C. Assault guys.
TT: (laughs) Yeah, Yeah. Just take a little bit from everybody because, you know, everybody has good attributes.
BDN: In the past, you weren’t asked to score as much as this year. How did you feel about the added responsibility?
TT: It’s not really added, you know, because it was already part of my game. Its just the teams we had before at Gonzaga I wasn’t expected to score or I didn’t have to. Its different with D.C. Assault, you know, when Coach tells me to score, I score. The offense that were in here we swing the ball around, you know, kick it out. If somebody has an open shot, they’re gonna take it, you know, they’re not going to swing it.
BDN: You guys have a lot of players with good court vision, even the big guys. Talk about the competition you face in the WCAC, arguably one of the top 5 leagues in the country
TT: I think its number one.
BDN: And how that might prepare you for the ACC better than the average public school kid in America.
TT: Exactly, you know, that’s why everybody in our area just wants to play in schools in WCAC because they know that its going to prepare them for the next level, you know, the coaches the players everybody you know, so I’d say its like a mini-ACC. Everybodys trying to win and everybody can knock everybody out.
BDN: Especially in your class There’s one match up of yours that Duke fans will be looking to for the next few years. You and Kendall Marshall. Lets talk about it.
TT: Kendall. That’s like my best friend . We went to middle school together and played on the same team.
BDN: He’s with Boo Williams.
TT: Yeah, I’m D.C. Assault
BDN: You beat him three out of four times last year and outscored him 25-17 in front of Coach K in December.
TT: Yeah, but they won that night.
BDN: Alright, well, I didn’t want to bring that up. (laughs)
TT: That’s okay.(laughs). Its alright. He’s my man. I’m looking forward to playing against him for the next, what, six years.
BDN: Maybe beyond
TT: (laughs) Yeah, hopefully
Blue Devil Nation: How do you match up against him? What do you better and what does he do better at this point?
Tyler Thornton: Kendall, you know, he’s a great point guard with great court vision and a nice touch. Hes got an all-around game. Kendall’s a great player.
BDN: Talk about the differences in what you’re asked to do at Gonzaga as compared to D.C. Assault.
TT: In AAU, there are teams that are stacked and teams that are not as good. In high school, we have more of a set type offense. We run like a Princeton style offense and in AAU we just, like, run and gun.
BDN: You, Eric Atkins, Hairston
TT: Yeah, you know, maybe, a secondary break-drive it to the middle, kick it out, pick-and-roll. Its a different style of offense, but the intensity is still there. Were still trying to win.
BDN: Could you give a scouting report on Josh Hairston and tell the audience about him as a person?
TT: I’d say basically a mix between KG and Tim Duncan.
BDN: Wow, that’s something to look forward to for the fans.
TT: (laughs) Of course, you know, he finishes great around the basket.
BDN: He’s developing a nice little hook.
TT: Yeah, he can step out, face up, take his man off of the dribble or shoot the jumper. Hes great on defense, you know, blocking shots — rebounding. He’s got an all around game.
BDN :He talked about what a major step up his game took when he joined the Assault. He felt it really helped his game a lot.
TT: Yeah, you know, when he came, I think he was a little nervous at first, but he seen that we trusted him. The first time he came he really wasn’t looking to score or doing what we know he could do.
BDN: He was just trying to fit in.
TT: Yeah, so we was like, man, just play. You’re gonna miss shots, but everybody here gonna misses shots. So if you shoot the ball, that’s better for us, its a better chance for us to get buckets.
BDN: Sure, you’re simply closer.
TT: Yeah, so me and Eric the other guards we don’t have problems with keep dumping it down. It helps everything out for us because we keep scoring.
Blue Devil Nation: What kind of advantage do you think you’ll have by knowing where he likes the ball and his tendencies by the time you arrive at Duke?
Tyler Thornton: I think it’ll tremendously help our chemistry on the court if we end up being on the court at the same time or even in practice going against the older guys. I think it’ll help us a lot. I know where he likes the ball and know where he likes to put the ball. Its always good to have somebody that you know that you enjoy playing with going through the system with you together.
BDN: Have you visited the Hall of Fame yet on this trip? Is this your first trip? If so, what were your impressions?
TT: Yeah, we went yesterday. It was my first time going. There was a lot of good stuff in there. Last night there was a dunk contest, two ball, three point shooting
BDN: Was everybody there?
TT: Yeah, all the teams.
BDN: Whats your current height and weight?
TT: I’d say 6-1 and three quarters and …
BDN: (laughs) Alright, alright …
TT: (laughs) and maybe 185…190
Blue Devil Nation: Okay, what would you like to be by the time you get to Duke?
Tyler Thornton: You know Coach. Coach K has told me that my body weight is fine. He actually wants me to lose a couple pounds so that, you know, Id still be strong, but Id be even a little quicker.
BDN: Do you have a weight room at school?
TT: Yes, and actually our trainer was here today. He works us out in the off seasons. He comes in and tells us what to do during the season too.
Blue Devil Nation: Have you had a chance to watch Duke much this year on TV? What is your take on this years team?
Tyler Thornton: Yeah, after practice, I try to catch all their games.
BDN: So you caught the Georgetown game?
TT: Yeah, that was a big game for me.
BDN: (laughs) I know it was a big game for you. I wasn’t sure about bringing it up, but.. (Georgetown recruited Tyler)
TT: (laughs) Yeah, definitely, definitely. Yeah, but hopefully I get a chance to go down there and watch them play.
Blue Devil Nation: What would you like fans to know about Tyler Thornton, both as a person and as a player?
Tyler Thornton: You know I don’t consider myself to be a big star or nothing so
BDN: Oh, come on! You’re the reason I’m here at this thing (laughs)
TT:(laughs) I’m just a laid back kid. I like to have fun and just chill. I just like to laugh and have fun, you know, so.
BDN: What about on the court? What do you want people to remember you as?
TT: Someone who played hard and left it all out on the court. He fought until the last minute.
BDN: A winner too.
TT: Yeah, you know I just hate to lose. If were down five with five seconds left, Im still thinking in my mind that were gonna win this game.
Blue Devil Nation: You won the title last year and now your team has a couple of early losses to O’Connell and that team in Ohio, but you seem to be hitting your stride now.
Tyler Thornton: This year everybody around our area sees all of the players that we sent to college last year and they think the new guys won’t fill the void for them. But it’s not about those guys trying to do what they did. It’s about guys playing a role and, if they play their roles right, we can win. You see today the height advantage they had was tremendous.
BDN: Yeah, I know, I thought My God, this is the one game I’m gonna have to interview you after.
TT:( laughs) Yeah, the height advantage was a tremendous difference, but our coach told us to box out. He told the guards we have to rebound and get out and run the floor.
BDN: Yeah, you pushed it, spread the floor, and wound up getting their guys in foul trouble.
TT: Exactly, exactly
Blue Devil Nation: Are you going to the inauguration?
Tyler Thornton: Unfortunately not, we’ve got practice. We’ve got school the next day. I’ll go to practice, stay off of my feet a little bit, and just watch it on TV.
BDN: Who’s the toughest guard you ever faced?
TT: Oh, about two years ago we faced Joe Jackson down at Bob Gibbons. He just killed us (laughs) He gave us about thirty. You know Kendall and Josh Selby and Markel. They’re always great competitors.
BDN: Well, I mean it’s help you to face them each once or twice a season …
TT: Yeah, it helps everybody on my team, not just me. It helps everyone in our area. Our area is so great. The competition is so hard.
Blue Devil Nation: Lastly, your mother! I know that’s gotta be your mother.
Tyler Thornton: (laughs) Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BDN: I said that has got to be your mother. I’ve seen her at the D.C. Assault games with the other mothers, but they’re much louder there. They’ve got the cheers and everything. I never mention mothers, but they’re so impressively loud and into the games. Shes got to be coming down to Duke when you start up. (laughs)
TT: (Laughs) Oh, of course. She’s gonna be one of the Cameron Crazies.
Blue Devil Nation: Oh, when you and Josh signed, I thought to myself, I hope that woman is one of your mothers cause she is the one woman who is louder than the Cameron Crazies.
Tyler Thornton:(laughs) I know. I know. With the D.C. Assault, that’s a great boost to have.
BDN: It is. It definitely is.
TT: Not only my mother, but everybody elses mother too.
BDN: Yeah, I love it when she goes (imitating Tyler Thornton’s mother) Deeeefense, boyyyyyys, defense( laughs)
TT: (laughs, clapping his hands together ) Yeah, that’s it! Yeah. Especially, if we’re down, they start and it up and it gives us a boost. Its great to have a mother that’s into the game like that.
BDN: Sure, absolutely. I also noticed that shes got the same look around the eyes too.
TT: Yeah, yeah, that’s my mother.
BDN: Well, Tyler, it was very nice to meet you.
TT: It was a pleasure to meet you too.
The Blue Devil Nation welcomes aboard, Andrew Slater. Andrew is one of the more knowledgeble folks I know when it comes to AAU ball, prospects and recruiting. He brings with him a uniques and detailed style which is sure to please our members.