UGA’s Thornton at crossroads in returning from injury

Since he arrived at Georgia, Marcus Thornton’s story has included multiple surgeries, missed games and persistent pain.

It wasn’t always like this.

Billy Thornton remembers his son playing about 100 games a year on the AAU circuit and for Westlake High School, where Thornton was named Georgia’s Mr. Basketball in 2010.

Only a broken nose his junior year at the Atlanta school kept him out for an entire game.

“You’re looking at a kid who missed one game in nearly 400 games,” Billy Thornton said. “He keeps thinking he’s supposed to play or he should be able to play.”

Marcus Thornton’s knees now tell him something else.

The Bulldogs’ junior forward underwent his third knee surgery — a scope on his right knee — a month ago today and he will miss his ninth straight game when Georgia plays at Texas A&M tonight at 6.

“I can only control what I can control now,” Thornton said. “Hopefully I can be healthy soon in the close future.”

For the second January in a row, Thornton is missing from action on the front end of Georgia’s Southeastern Conference schedule.

He missed the first three SEC games last season (and two non-conference games as well) after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. He had surgery last spring on the patella tendon in his left knee due to chronic tendonitis.

“He keeps pushing himself and he keeps trying to do things for the team and he doesn’t want to let the team down,” said Billy Thornton, a former college professor and now consultant who has a Ph.D and master’s degree from Harvard and played college football at Clark Atlanta. “Sometimes he does that to his detriment.”

This time, it’s uncertain when — or if — Thornton will return to the lineup.

“We’re kind of at a critical crossroads in terms of getting him well and doing the right thing, taking time where it’s appropriate,” Billy Thornton said.

Thornton has yet to do a basketball drill since his surgery.

“No timetable to return,” Thornton said. “I have no clue. … All I know is I rehab just about every day, just try to get healthy as possible.”

The 6-foot-8, 235-pound Thornton averages 3.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game — numbers that won’t dazzle anybody — but coach Mark Fox can feel the absence of a player who has started 27 games at Georgia in games like Wednesday night’s 64-47 loss to Florida when forward Donte’ Williams got into foul trouble.

“When we had Marcus, who is a terrific defender and rebounder at a couple of different positions, [Williams’] foul trouble wasn’t as big of an issue,” Fox said. “You had a safety net of Marcus who could defend multiple spots and defend inside and outside.”

Now Georgia must rely on Brandon Morris, a freshman to try to fill that role.

“We missed Marcus greatly the other night,” Fox said. “Probably as much as we’ve ever missed him since he’s been hurt.”

Thornton’s mindset is to return to play. He says he’s not thinking that the knee injuries will eventually end his college career early.

“As far as I know I’m coming back until somebody advises me otherwise,” he said. “We’ll see.”

Billy Thornton said a doctor said the recovery time from this surgery could be anywhere from six weeks to three months.

His father has told Marcus his body needs time to rest and recover, but he also acknowledges that questions have been raised not only about a medical redshirt but possibly a medical disqualification.

If doctors deem he had a season-ending injury, he could apply for a medical redshirt which would be a sixth year.

“You’ve got to try and get back because there’s no guarantee you’re going to get it,” Fox said. “If you get back and they say you’re healthy with however many games left, you won’t get it. So it’s just a real tough situation for him. I feel awful for him. Awful.”

Thornton said he turns to his father most to keep him positive, but Billy Thornton said that has been difficult at times.

“He shows a lot of his frustration on his face,” Fox said. “That’s hard on a guy to have pain in both knees and to have to play through it.”

Thornton tries to contribute what he can off the court. He’s traveled with the team to weekend road games — he’s on the trip this weekend — when he won’t miss classes.

“He’s an incredible guy, an incredible supporter,” forward Nemanja Djurisic said. “He’s very mentally strong. We hope for the best for him. Hopefully he’ll be playing for us soon.”

Said Thornton: “I’m working towards getting healthy, that’s first and foremost. I don’t think I’ve done that yet.”

 

 

TODAY’S GAME

GEORGIA AT TEXAS A&M

When: 6 p.m.

Where: Reed Arena, College Station, Texas

TV: FSSO

Radio: WRFC 960-AM.

Records: Georgia is 7-11, 1-4 SEC; Texas A&M is 12-6, 2-3 SEC

Season at a glance: Georgia’s schedule lightens some after playing games against ranked teams in three of its first five SEC games, including Wednesday night when No. 8 Florida won 64-47 in Athens. The Gators outscored the Bulldogs 40-20 in the second half after never leading in the first 20 minutes. Texas A&M will try to break a three-game losing streak after starting its first season of SEC play with wins against Arkansas and Kentucky. The Aggies are coming off a 58-54 road loss to an LSU team that was previously winless in the SEC. The Aggies opened a 19-5 lead but were undone by 24 turnovers. Texas A&M lost games to Florida (by 21) and Alabama (by one) before that.

Probable starting lineups: Georgia: G Charles Mann (6-4, 205, Fr., 5.9 ppg, 2.6 apg); G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (6-5, 205, So., 17.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg ); F: Brandon Morris (6-7, 205, Fr., 4.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg); F Donte’ Williams (6-9, 225, Jr., 5.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg); C John Florveus (6-11, 240, Sr., 2.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg). Texas A&M: G J’Mychal Reese (6-1 173, Fr., 7.3 ppg, 2.3 apg); G Fabyon Harris (5-11, 172, Jr., 10.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg); G Elston Turner (6-5, 212, Sr, 15.5 ppg, 3.5 apg.); F Kourtney Roberson (6-9, 234, R.So., 6.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg); F Ray Turner (6-9, 230, Jr., 10.6 ppg. 6.1 rpg).

Series record: This is the first meeting between the teams. They will play again on Feb. 9 in Athens,

Noteworthy: Elston Turner lit up Kentucky for 40 points in Rupp Arena on Jan. 12, but scored just five points on 1 of 7 shooting against LSU. Both teams rely on freshmen point guards in Mann and Reese. “He’s probably experienced some of the similar things that Charles has throughout this season, but it’s going to come down to Charles taking care of himself first no matter whether he’s playing against a junior, senior, sophomore or whatever,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. …Harris, a junior college transfer from Southern Idaho, led the Aggies with 19 points against LSU. …The Aggies are third in the SEC in scoring defense (59.3 ppg) and Georgia is seventh (62.9). …Caldwell-Pope (17.1 ppg) is third in the SEC in scoring. …Texas A&M is 9-2 at home, with a two-point loss to Southern on Dec. 22 included. Georgia is 0-6 away from Athens. …This is just the fifth time the Bulldogs have played a game in Texas and first since a 78-77 win at Texas on Nov. 29, 1998. …Texas A&M can secure its 1,300th win all-time win. The Aggies are 1,299-1182 in 101 seasons.

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