Drifts among Storm clouds

College basketball: Others may get the credit for St. John's lofty rise to prominence, but, as he showed against Northern Arizona, Bootsy Thornton can thunder with the best of them.

Ncaa Tournament

March 18, 2000|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Marvis Thornton Jr. is the legal name, given by the father who believed his first born should be named after him.

Less than two weeks after he was born, however, Marvis Jr. had a new name, given to him in honor of the favorite funk band of his mother, Darlene Grimes.

"I just started calling him Bootsy," she said. "I never thought much about it. He's just always been my Bootsy."

It stuck, to the point that Bootsy Thornton has never known any other name. "I had no choice. That's what everyone was calling me when I was younger," he said. "I know of [Parliament Funkadelic] -- that was back in the day. All our parents went to their concerts. The star glasses, that's what caught my attention."

But the name -- courtesy of Bootsy Collins' Rubber Band -- is not that of a man taken seriously, and that is the case all too often for the Dunbar grad.

Thornton, a senior guard at St. John's, averages nearly 16 points, six rebounds and nearly three assists. He had 20 points, seven rebounds, three assists and a steal in a first-round tournament win over Northern Arizona, but that's probably going unnoticed.

That's unless he gets into a tiff with teammate Erick Barkley at halftime of the Big East tournament semifinals against Miami, an incident last week that finally propelled him to the big time.

"I made the paper that day," Thornton said. "With all my accomplishments, I never made the back page, but one little negative thing happens "

Someday, Bootsy Thornton might get everything he wants. He would have liked a not-so-close basketball game in a region more likely to be televised in Baltimore.

Instead, Grimes was "clutching my heart" 2,500 miles away in East Baltimore while watching the game on pay per view. (As it turned out, most of the game aired in Baltimore on CBS.) The Lumberjacks had cut the Red Storm lead to three points with less than five minutes to play, prodding the crowd noise to levels rarely equaled at the McKale Center.

Amid all of this, the ball found its way into the hands of the 6-foot-4 Thornton. He overcame the noise and 7-foot NAU center Dan McClintock, throwing up a reverse layup that somehow went in.

"Big-time players make big-time shots," forward Lavor Postell said of Thornton, who scored at least 20 points for the seventh time in the past nine games. "He basically held it down for us, and he deserves a lot of the credit."

Of course, recognition has a way of eluding Thornton, his second-team All-Big East honors honors notwithstanding. Postell and Barkley had become staples of the New York headlines because of their battles with the NCAA, and they took top billing again with a late jumper and game-saving steal that moved the Red Storm into today's second-round game against Gonzaga.

After Thornton had 22 points, 11 rebounds and six assists at Cameron Indoor Stadium in an upset win over Duke, a reporter at one New York tabloid said he had to make a special plea for Thornton to make the back cover.

"I've just got to go play, regardless. It's been like that my whole life," Thornton said. "Even in high school, it was a case of someone being better than me."

Tommy Polley, an All-Metro first-teamer in two sports, played with Thornton on Dunbar's basketball team. And because Polley accepted a scholarship to play football at Florida State, that pretty much trumped Thornton's move to Tallahassee Junior College.

Invisibility is something you take for granted at two-year schools, even if you're an All-American, and when Thornton arrived at St. John's, certain aspects of his game merited hiding.

"I don't think he's been overshadowed. He's a very fine work in progress," St. John's coach Mike Jarvis said. "When I first came here, he could score mainly because he had a knack for the ball around the basket. But he was also an awful defender and not a very good passer. If there was a shadow, it was because it was justified."

After redshirting his first season at St. John's, Thornton led the team in scoring last year as the Red Storm advanced to the round of eight in the NCAAs.

This season, at the behest of the St. John's staff, he started working on other things that accounted for an early dip in his scoring average, though he finished at 15.2 points a game.

Thornton's totals for assists (91), steals (76) and rebounds (177) for 31 games are up significantly over those for last season's 37 games.

"He's become a better shooter, he's probably our second-best defender next to Erick, and he's become a very careful passer," Jarvis said. "Now Bootsy's ready to step into the limelight."

The publicized confrontation came out of Barkley's unhappiness with Thornton's defense during the game against Miami.

Early reports said that the two threw punches. Thornton said the confrontation was strictly verbal.

"We didn't even do everything that was proclaimed to have been done, but I guess the lesson is to watch what you do," he said. "You never know what can happen. People may perceive me differently across the country after what they read."

If he makes it in pro basketball, a higher profile might require more exuberance. After his shot over McClintock, he made a scream-less, gesture-less run up court that he doesn't intend to change.

When asked if he'd be taking the name Marvis anytime soon, he said, "Not for a while. I'm not going to change how I am, just to please someone else. That's not how I was raised."

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