Thornton Returns from Down Under for 2nd SL Test

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WALTHAM, Mass. – After being drafted by the Boston Celtics in the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft, Marcus Thornton traveled to the other side of the globe to further develop his game.

Now, following a season in Australia’s National Basketball League and a short stint with Boston’s D-League affiliate Maine Red Claws, the 23-year-old guard is hoping to make his mark on Boston’s Summer League squad and take his basketball career to the next level.

Thornton told media after Saturday morning’s practice that his season abroad helped him grow into a stronger all-around player as he made the transition from college ball to a league of men.

“We had an up-and-down season team-wise, but I thought the play over there was really physical,” said Thornton, who averaged 12.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game during 28 contests with the Sydney Kings. “So matching the physicality in the NBA, I think playing over there and just dealing with that helped me a lot.”

The 6-foot-4, explosive combo guard will look to display that physicality during the next few weeks in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, and hopes to take on a significant scoring role as well.

Finding the net was Thornton’s main expertise in college, as he was one of the top scorers in the nation during his senior campaign at William & Mary. He averaged 20.0 PPG that season, connected on 40.2 percent of his 3-pointers, and left as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,178 career points.

“That’s kind of who he is,” said Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry, who will act as the team’s head coach in Salt Lake City. “He’s a guy that can shoot the ball, he can put it on the ground, he can go by people. He’s smaller, but he can play the 1, he can play the 2.”

Thornton experienced some shooting struggles while in Australia, having connected on 37.7 percent of his field goals, including a 28.1 percent clip from 3-point range. However, when he returned to the U.S., he played in 12 games for Maine and saw those numbers jump to 45.7 percent and 35.9 percent, respectively.

Shrewsberry doesn’t appear concerned about Thornton’s shooting woes in Australia. The coach pointed out that he’s been hitting his shots consistently during the first few days of practice, and hasn’t showed any fatigue despite the grueling sessions.

“The one thing about Marcus is that he gets a lot of legs into his shot," said Shrewsberry. "And we’ve done a lot of running and sprinting and defense and everything else, and some of these guys’ legs are really tired. But you saw it today; his shot’s still going in. So he has some fresh legs, he has some bounce, he has an extra reservoir down there that some people might not have.”

Thornton’s extreme athleticism is one of the main things that caught Boston’s eye last year, prompting the C’s to select him with the 45th overall pick.

He dazzled at the Draft Combine posting the fastest three-quarter court sprint in seven years (3.02 seconds), and recording the second-highest max vertical jump of his draft class with a 43-inch leap.

Thornton also impressed at his draft workout with the Celtics, and had a few solid showings during last year’s Summer League, including a 21-point performance against Miami.

This summer, he hopes to show that he can be a strong two-way player after building some strength and focusing on his defense last season.

“I just want to prove I can play defense at a high level,” said Thornton. “Guard the 1 and the 2, continue to shoot the 3 well, be a good teammate, make the right plays and fulfill my role.”

Thornton understands he’ll have his work cut out for him as he competes for playing time among guards such as Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, Demetrius Jackson and Corey Walden, but he’s up for the test.

“We have really good guards on this team and I think we all mesh well,” said Thornton. “We’ve been able to push ourselves in practice and make each other better, so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Thornton’s first challenge begins Monday night, when he and the C’s take on the Philadelphia 76ers for their first Summer League game in Salt Lake City.