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Clippers believe Thornton can make immediate impact


Al Thornton isn’t one of those young phenoms who typically fill the first round of the NBA draft every year, although his braces make him look a lot younger than 23.

Rather, Thornton played four years at Florida State, and believes he enters the professional ranks ready to make an immediate impact. The Los Angeles Clippers, who made him the 14th overall pick in last week’s draft, feel the same way.

“I feel like I can play against anybody,” Thornton said Thursday upon being introduced to the local media at a Staples Center news conference. “That wasn’t the case three years ago. I feel like I was a work in progress I had to be a work in progress.

“I had a desire to try and get better and better each year. I think I got the job done. I had a great coaching staff. They molded me into a player from an athlete. I’m very versatile I can do a lot of things.”

The 6-foot-8, 220-pounder was a reserve during his freshman year and most of his sophomore season before becoming a starter. He averaged a team-leading 16.1 points and 6.9 rebounds as a junior, and an Atlantic Coast Conference-leading 19.7 points and 7.2 rebounds as a senior.

“I thought about coming out last year,” he said. “I talked it over with my family, I talked it over with my coaches. There were a couple things I needed to work on.”

And so he stayed, and went from a perhaps a second-round draft selection to a lottery pick.

Thornton, who turns 24 in December, signed a two-year rookie contract with team options for two more years before Thursday’s news conference. As the 14th overall pick, he’ll earn $1,652,280 next season.

When asked if Thornton would be part of the Clippers’ regular rotation next season, coach Mike Dunleavy replied: “I an expecting that. He certainly has all the physical maturity. Physically, he’s a man.”

Dunleavy said he believes that somewhere around six or eight rookies are ready to contribute on a playoff-caliber team.

Thornton would be one of them.

“Al is an accomplished 3-point shooter. He has a low post game as well,” Dunleavy said. “He’s got a 7-foot wingspan with a 41-inch vertical jump. He’s a former football player, he’s got that kind of mentality when he plays.

“To put it simply, he’s been yelled at for four years already. His skin’s probably thicker than it was four years ago.”

Thornton didn’t work out for the Clippers before the draft, but Dunleavy said he became sold after watching him play on film and speaking with his coaching staff at Florida State.

The two met at the NBA pre-draft camp in Orlando, Fla., and Dunleavy told Thornton that if he was available when the Clippers drafted, they would take him.

Then, Dunleavy said he watched Thornton work out in Phoenix the day before the draft.

“That put me way over the top, that we should do whatever we could do to get him,” Dunleavy said. “He was our No. 1 guy.”

Thornton will be joining a team that went 40-42 last season, and just missed earning consecutive playoff berths for the first time since 1992-93.

First, though, he’ll play for the Clippers’ summer league team in Las Vegas.

“I can’t wait to get on the court and play,” he said.

Thornton said he’s been wearing braces for about three years. When asked when they’d be taken out, he smiled and replied: “Hopefully soon.”

–Associated Press

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