- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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“I’ve always had that because I was always smaller than everybody else when I was younger, so I had to get it out fast or I’d get it blocked back in my face,” Thornton, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 205 pounds, told ESPNNewYork.com on Wednesday. “It just stuck with me throughout my career.”
In 12 games since being acquired by the Nets in a Feb. 19 trade, Thornton, 26, is averaging 12.2 points and shooting 39 percent from 3-point range. His older brother, Willard, better known as “Beanie,” taught him how to shoot.
“[Beanie] didn’t get me into basketball. I was always passionate about the sport, but he was the one who helped me take basketball to another level,” Thornton said of his older brother. “I was smaller, so I’d shoot it underhand, and he was the one taking me to the park and helping me develop the shot that you see today.”
Thornton emerged from a tough neighborhood in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He credits his older brothers for keeping him out of trouble.
Throughout his life, Thornton relied on his mom, Nancy West, and his godmother, Faith Dickerson, for support.
“They’ve always been behind me 100 percent, and even when I get off track a little bit, they always send me that text or that phone call to get me back in place,” Thornton said. “Without those two I probably wouldn’t be here right now.”
Thornton’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was a teenager. The cancer then returned two years ago, forcing Thornton to miss some games.
“She’s doing a whole lot better now,” Thornton said of Nancy West, now 65. “I appreciate everybody that has kept us in their prayers.
“It’s scary. The first thing I thought, you know, is that people that have cancer die. The only thing I could think of is, I’m about to lose my mom. For her to be able to fight it and beat it two times, it lets me know that I can handle anything.”
Thornton calls Dickerson “his second mother.”
“We talk a lot,” Thornton said. “She’s been my inspiration, too.”
Both have had a significant impact on his life.
“Whether I was lying [when I was a kid] or not playing my potential on the basketball court, they’d be the first one to call me,” Thornton said.
Now, Thornton is playing a pivotal role for the Nets. He's a streaky shooter capable of scoring 15 straight points.
“It feels like nobody can stop you out there,” Thornton, who has scored as many as 42 points in a game on two occasions, said Wednesday. “When I’m in one of those zones, I don’t think anybody can take me.”
Added Deron Williams: “He’s a guy that just comes in, and if he gets on fire, anything can happen. Any time you have a threat like that coming off the bench, that’s a plus.”
“I’m still learning the plays on the fly,” Thornton said. “It’s a process. I still don’t know all the plays yet, but with the veteran guys in this locker room, it should be easy to figure them out by the time the playoffs come.”
Nets coach Jason Kidd joked recently that Thornton does know “shoot it.”
The fifth-year pro is looking forward to playing in the postseason for the first time.
“I’m very excited,” Thornton said. “With the group of guys we have, I know it’s going to be easy on me because they’ve played in the playoffs and know what it takes to win big, so it’s going to be much easier.”
Thornton admits that he isn’t settled in just yet, but he does feel comfortable with his new teammates.
“Very comfortable,” said Thornton. “The first day I got here, the first people I’ve been with were Paul [Pierce] and Double-A [Alan Anderson]. They made me feel welcome right away. It was easy to come in and pick up on everything that’s been going on.”