Watching the Georgia football team play Tennessee on Oct. 5 provided Georgia basketball player Marcus Thornton with an uncomfortably familiar feeling.
During Georgia’s 34-31 overtime victory in Knoxville, the Bulldogs lost tailback Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley to season-ending knee injuries.
Thornton has had similar experiences at Georgia, missing five games as a sophomore after a knee injury and playing in but nine games last year before he required another knee surgery.
“Speaking about those guys, I was around some of them this summer, and just to see what happened to those guys, or any guys, really, I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy,” the 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward said. “Those are really good guys and they put the most into it. When you have a situation like that and somebody goes down in a second, especially when they’ve worked hard and had a breakthrough, it really hurts. It hurt me to watch them [against Tennessee] for that particular reason. It’s tough, but it builds a strong individual.”
Thornton, who received a medical redshirt after missing Georgia’s final 23 games and has had surgeries on both knees, will have the opportunity test himself today at 7 p.m. when the Bulldogs host UNC Pembroke in an exhibition game at Stegeman Coliseum. Georgia begins its regular season at 7:30 p.m. on Friday against Wofford.
The UNC Pembroke game will be the first for the former Westlake High School standout since Dec. 18 of last year, when he scored two points and pulled down one rebound in a 58-49 victory over Mercer. Thornton proclaimed himself fit for duty.
“I feel great, the best I’ve ever felt,” he said. “I’m going in ready to go. This is the best I’ve felt mentally and more important, it’s the best I’ve felt physically. I just try to remain as positive as possible, not just for myself but for everybody else. I want to show by example that positivity is the best way you can be, physically.”
Thornton, who missed three Southeastern Conference games in the 2011-12 season and every league battle last year, has endured three knee surgeries since coming to Georgia. He’s expected to play a key role in the Bulldogs’ inside game this winter, provided he can stay healthy. Georgia coach Mark Fox said Thornton is playing with a little extra vitality during fall practices.
“He’s having fun playing. He’s got confidence in his body again and he’s really playing hard and has had an awesome start,” Fox, starting his fifth year at Georgia, said. “We pray he stays healthy because he’s been through a lot. He really worked hard this offseason to get the strength back in his legs and to get healthy. When someone’s had something taken away from them, they really enjoy it when they get it back and he, to this point, is enjoying it and playing very well.”
Besides utilizing his size and ability, Thornton will also be counted upon to provide leadership on a team that has one senior, forward Donte’ Williams, on the roster.
“I see him as a leader — he’s a senior in class but a redshirt junior out here,” Williams said of Thornton. “I see a guy who can lead on and off the court. He’s a big, strong, physical guy that can rebound the ball, so that’s one of the most important things he brings to this team. And he’s got plenty of experience, having been here three years. His physical presence will be big for us.”
Having witnessed Thornton’s hardships these last two years, teammate Nemanja Djurisic is delighted to see him back on the floor.
“I’m very excited about him and I’m very happy for him because that kid has gone through so much and he deserves a lot,” Djurisic, a junior, said. “He has great ability. He’s been doing great. He’s healthy and is being a good leader. I think he’ll have a good season if he can keep his body well.”
Thornton, who has averaged 2.4 points and 3.4 rebounds in the 68 games he’s played at Georgia, has shied away from stating any personal goals for the season, other than staying on the floor.
“I just want to be the best leader I can be and help this team win as many games as possible, but most important, win one day at a time,” he said.