Marcus Thornton was the No. 1 player in Georgia, but he’s not in the top 100 nationally. (Rivals has him No. 121.) He is, however, a major acquisition for Mark Fox and a Bulldog program that still has to prove it can recruit as well as it coaches.
Background: Thornton, of Westlake High, signed with Clemson last fall when most among us figured Fox’s Hounds would do well to go 10-20. He became the recruiting equivalent of a free agent when Oliver Purnell inexplicably bolted for DePaul, which is among the worst jobs in the country.
On his second go-round, Thornton considered Georgia Tech, Texas and Alabama before committing to Georgia on Wednesday. (Because he’d already signed one letter-of-intent, he technically cannot sign another. The rule: One signed letter per player, even if the recruit has been released from it.) And this is big news for Fox.
Georgia finished an honorable 14-17 in the season just completed, beating Tech, Illinois, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida en route. But that was accomplished with the players Fox inherited from Dennis Felton, and two of them — Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie — turned out to be quite good. It’s clear from one season that Fox can coach what talent he has. At issue was whether a guy who’d never before worked east of Manhattan, Kan., could attract talent.
Marcus Thornton was kind of an early acid test. Fox had no shot at him last fall because Fox hadn’t yet proved anything to us locals, but when the state’s Mr. Basketball becomes unaccountably available and you’re the state school … well, you pretty much have to get him, don’t you?
The playing field for Thornton, Take 2, wasn’t quite level. As tempting as it is to fault Paul Hewitt for not landing a power forward after losing two early to the NBA draft, the ACC has a funny rule about transfers within the conference. Thornton might well have to had to sit out next season had he enrolled at Tech. He told the ol’ AJC on Wednesday that possibility played no part in his choice, but how could it be ignored?
Besides, Hewitt has Kammeon Holsey, a freshman coming off an injury, to play power forward. And the biggest problem with Hewitt isn’t his recruiting, as we know. It’s what happens — or what doesn’t happen — when those recruits get to campus.
Put simply, Fox needed Thornton to prove that Fox could get a Thornton. And he did. And now you’d have to say Georgia has a chance to spike upward in a massively unsettled SEC East. Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida should be good. The Bulldogs could be, too.