ATHENS — Marcus Thornton said the last time he felt 100 percent healthy was the semifinals of the state high school playoffs his senior year at Westlake High.
That day Thornton suffered a bizarre injury. He sprained his left ankle jumping up in the air to chest bump a teammate. Thornton, who was named Mr. Georgia Basketball that year, has been dealing with one injury or another ever since.
Now a junior at the University of Georgia, the 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward is still trying to get well. He’s coming off his second knee surgery – he’s had one on each leg – but is oh so close to feeling normal again as the Bulldogs prepare to open the season.
“I’m getting there,” said Thornton, who also has dealt with a staph infection his right elbow while at Georgia. “Ever since I’ve been here I haven’t really felt well. So it’d be nice to feel completely well for once. But I just make the best of what I have and do everything I can to contribute.”
A healthy Thornton is one of the reason there is a lot of optimism regarding the Bulldogs. Thornton is one of four starters returning for Georgia, which is coming off a 15-17 season and 10th-place finish in the SEC (5-11). Also returning for the Bulldogs is second-leading scorer Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (13.2 ppg), leading rebounder Donte Williams (5.1 rpg) and versatile 6-8 forward Nemanja Djurisic. Georgia adds to that five returning lettermen and four touted newcomers.
“This is a group I’m looking forward to coaching,” said fourth-year coach Mark Fox, who has recruited every player on the roster. “We have more pieces this year. We’re a deeper basketball team. We’re more athletic than we were, a more physical group, certainly a more experienced group… . I think we just have more guys who are ready for SEC play.”
That has been the book on Thornton since he got there. As a senior at Westlake, he averaged 23.5 points and 12.1 rebounds in the state’s highest classification and was named a first-team All-American by ESPN Rise. Despite all the injuries, he has managed to play in 59 of the Bulldogs’ 65 games the past two seasons. He recorded career bests last season with 10 points against Arkansas and 10 rebounds against South Dakota State.
Fox will handle Thornton with caution this season. Fox did not allow Thornton to play on their exhibition trip to Italy this summer and he vows to bring him along slowly.
“He will probably get frustrated with me because I’m going to make sure that we proceed very slowly with him,” Fox said. “He’s cleared to practice and will be ready to play and looks very good in our workouts. But he’s also a young man who has had two knee surgeries and he’s got some tread on those tires, so we have to be careful.”
Thornton is understandably anxious, but he’s willing to do what he must to feel good again.
“It won’t be from the get-go,” Thornton said. “It will be something I build up to more and more each day, each week. But I’m getting closer and closer. Hopefully one day I’ll be there.”
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