- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2006

There wasn’t much variation to Al Thornton’s routine last summer. Up at 6:30 a.m., working out a half hour later, then going to class and working out more before a pickup game to finish the day.

Six days a week, the Florida State forward followed the same script in the hopes his game would develop enough to help the Seminoles make a run at the NCAA tournament.

It was time well invested for the tireless junior, who has emerged seemingly from nowhere to average 16.1 points and 6.6 rebounds as the Seminoles (16-7, 6-6 ACC) play host to Maryland (16-9, 6-6) tonight in a game with postseason implications for both teams.

“I feel like I’ve come a long way,” Thornton said. “I’ve worked hard to get my body in shape to play harder and play with a lot of energy. I can play hard for a long period of time. That’s the kind of thing that separated me from a lot of people.”

Yet even Thornton admits it would have been tough to envision the type of season he is enjoying. He didn’t draw much notice in high school in Perry, Ga., until his senior year, and he enrolled at Florida State a semester late after improving his SAT scores. Thornton then redshirted before earning limited minutes the next season.

Thornton played more last season, though he couldn’t consistently crack the starting lineup of a team that stumbled to a 12-19 record. However, he was busy continuing to learn the offense, a process that continued well into his long days last summer.

“In high school, I didn’t run any offense — I was the offense,” Thornton said. “Coming in, the motion offense, it has so many different options. I wanted to know everything, [and] it took a while.”

It’s finally clicked this season for the 6-foot-7, 208-pound Thornton, who can hurt foes with midrange jumpers as well as with solid inside play. He scored 37 points in a loss at Boston College, then added another 37 earlier this month to almost single-handedly lead Florida State to a near-upset of Duke on the road.

“He’s only scratched the surface of his potential,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “I knew he played the game with an extreme passion, he enjoyed playing and I knew that we needed those kind of players at Florida State because you knew they were going to get better.”

He’s improved enough to draw notice from the NBA. Thornton said he has thought about playing professionally, but is more concerned with leading the Seminoles to their first NCAA berth since 1998. Maryland coach Gary Williams said yesterday Thornton is one of the ACC players pro scouts usually ask him about.

Much of the attention comes from an overall game that has dramatically improved since he arrived in Tallahassee.

“He might be putting the ball on the floor a little better to create his shot,” Williams said. “He doesn’t need screens to get open. A lot of times he can just go. He seems very hungry. His attitude seems very good in terms of really wanting to play every time out. I think sometimes the light bulb goes on at some point in your career.”

Thornton might have “shocked a lot of people” this year as teammate Alexander Johnson believes, but he’s still not a lock as a first-team all-ACC pick in a league with Duke’s J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams, Boston College’s Craig Smith, North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough and Virginia’s Sean Singletary.

That’s fine with Thornton, who is content to chase an NCAA bid.

“I’ve been under the radar throughout my whole career,” said Thornton, who is two semesters away from becoming the first person in his family to earn a college degree. “I know I’ve got something to prove. It’s fine with me. It doesn’t really bother me. I know what type of player I am.”

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