Derryck Thornton has always done things a bit different. From the time that he was in sixth grade at Stoneridge Prep in Cali, he was playing varsity basketball. In fact, he played alongside Oklahoma City Thunder big man Enes Kanter during the Turkish phenom’s brief tenure in stateside high school hoops. Naturally, it should have been expected that his college decision wouldn’t quite be the most typical either.
After having already played seven seasons of high school basketball, Thornton opted to bump up a class and attend college in the Class of 2015, albeit only for two programs with legendary coaches: Duke and Louisville. A student of the game, the opportunity to play from the jump while picking up a vast array of knowledge from one of the game’s most legendary coaches. Ultimately, he decided to attend summer school to graduate early so he could ride with Coach K at Duke.
“I feel like that everything happened perfectly,” Thornton admitted of his decision to jump from high school to college early. “Tyus leaving, where I was at, and with what I had done at Findlay Prep. It’s the best coaching staff in the country and they encouraged me to come early, so that’s what I did.”
When the Thornton fam was contemplating the jump to the college game, they were initially planning on approaching things with a unique strategy. Derryck Sr.—better known as “Tank” within the basketball community—and his son were planning on coming in and redshirting his first year so that he was able to immediately step in and make an impact during his second year. This would give him time to get acclimated to both the college life and the college game itself. Then, he got a vote of confidence from Coach K and it all changed.
“I feel like the confidence that I have in myself and the confidence that Coach K has in me is what made me change my mind [on redshirting],” he explained. “I feel like all the work my father and I have put in over the years has prepared me for this.”
Continuing that aforementioned grind, Thornton has spent the last few summers training with Joe Abunassar, Drew Moore, Tyler Ward and Co. at Impact Basketball in Vegas. Working out alongside future pros like Kristaps Porzingis training for the Draft, his game and self-assurance grew together. The workout gurus showed him how to attack pick and rolls at different angles, then finish above 7-footers at the rim. He did all of his catch-and-shoot work from the NBA three point line, making one-dribble pull-ups from the college line a thing of ease. Then working with Ward, he took his explosiveness to another level to the point in which he was routinely crushing 360s in the middle of drills. And that’s just the on-the-court work.
A vast student of the game, Thornton and his pops spend hours watching film of the NBA’s best lead guards. The way that they approach the game, lead their teams, and control the game. They watch edits given to them by former NBA coaches of guys like CP3, Kyrie, Steph and Steve Nash. Just as important as the gains that he has made on the court, if not more, were the ones that he has made mentally. Learning under Coach K, this is just the beginning of his advancement as a playmaker.
Still, the progression that he has made on the court since the season ended at Findlay Prep is apparent to anyone who has gotten a glimpse of him.
“First, we’ve been doing lot of lifting and getting stronger. I’ve made lot of gains both physically and athletically,” he said before describing his on-court workout plan. “We’ve been doing lot of shooting off of the dribble—500 a day off the bounce, to be exact. A lot of catch-and-shoot, off dribble, explosion to rim, and pick and roll stuff.”
Chilling with Coach K over the last couple of days in Vegas has only made the 6-2 incoming freshman’s firmness in his decision grow even more. If the head coach of Team USA believes that you can come in and make an impact a year early, why not give it a shot? After hooping against countless pros throughout the summer in Vegas and working out as many as four times in certain days, Derryck too believes that he can come in and help the Blue Devils from day one.
“I’m better than a lot of people. I’m someone who is going to come in and compete next year. Being able to come in and be dominant against pros makes me feel like I can go in and be dominant against anyone.”