Marcus Thornton is a Bulldog.
Thornton, aka Mr. Georgia Basketball, picked the University of Georgia out of a final four that included Alabama, Georgia Tech and Texas. He made the announcement at a news conference before a modest gathering in the Westlake High gymnasium.
“They were all great schools, great situations, the coaching staffs were all great. It was hard for me to pick one over another,” Thornton told the AJC afterward. “But, in the end, I liked the opportunity I could have at Georgia. I wanted to be a big piece of something. I felt in my heart that’s what I really wanted to do.”
Thornton (6-foot-7, 215 pounds) said he will be a “combo forward” for the Bulldogs, playing mostly small forward in the Bulldogs’ triangle offer but also spelling Trey Thompkins at power forward. Thornton earned the distinction as the state’s top player while averaging 24 points and 12 rebounds a game and leading Westlake (30-3) to the Class AAAAA state championship game this past season.
Thornton recently narrowed a long list of offers to a top four of Alabama, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Texas. He visited each of his finalists over the last two weeks — finishing at Tech this past Thursday — before making up his mind on Tuesday.
Thornton originally signed with Clemson last November but changed his mind after coach Oliver Purnell left for DePaul. The Tigers released Thornton from his national letter-of-intent, making him one of the most sought-after spring recruits in the South. The spring signing period ends Wednesday.
Thornton said the Atlantic Coast Conference’s intraconference transfer rule, which would have required a waiver appeal if he had chosen Tech, was not a factor in his decision.
“We made the decision like the rule wasn’t even there,” he said. “We looked into it but I really didn’t deal with it much. My parents did. They just told me to make the decision and if you want to go to Tech we’ll make it happen.”
Thornton said his relationship with the players at Georgia and with coach Mark Fox were major factors in his decision.
“It was a combination of everything,” he said. “I’ve been in Georgia, so I’ve known about the school for all these years. Mark Fox is a great coach. I love what he’s doing up there. And there’s a lot of great guys up there I already know. So it was just a good situation.”
Thornton was distinguished as “Mr. Basketball” — the best overall high school player in the state regardless of classification — by both the AJC and the Atlanta Tipoff Club. He was named fourth-team All-America by Parade Magazine.
“We are delighted that Marcus has decided to join our program,” Fox said. “He is a terrific basketball player, a great student and an outstanding young man. He’s a winner in every way. He has a great family who now will be able to watch him play. Marcus was well coached in high school and is ready for the next step in his basketball career. It means a great deal to have Mr. Basketball coming to the University of Georgia for that next step. It’s also very exciting to us that Marcus wants to be a part of what we’re building Georgia.”
Because he already signed an national letter-of-intent with Clemson last November, NCAA rules prevent Thornton from signing another one. So he signed a “financial aid agreement.” But it’s mostly semantics. Thornton said he will report to UGA’s campus on May 31 and start classes shortly thereafter.
Thornton is fourth member of the Bulldogs’ 2010 recruiting class. He joins 6-8 forward Cady Lalanne of Orlando, Fla.; 6-9 forward Donte Williams of Ellenwood; and 6-2 guard Sherrard Brantley of Dublin.