The game of basketball can take you all over the world. Whether it’s here in Brooklyn, all the way down under in Australia, and beyond, the game brings us all together and allows us to have new, fun experiences. For one player, the road to the league has taken her around the world before finally landing at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic.
Spots in the WNBA are incredibly hard to come by. There are only 144 roster spots available across the 12 teams, and we often have situations where top picks get waived very early in their careers. If you’re able to make it in the league and play for a long time, you really are the best of the best. In a dream offseason for the New York Liberty, there’s one player who fits that description and has a chance to make a huge impact alongside her new superstar teammates.
Kayla Thornton’s basketball journey began at the University of Texas at El Paso way back in 2010. Across her four years at her hometown school, she gradually improved and averaged 19.7 points per game in her senior year at UTEP. Upon graduation, she was the team’s all time leading scorer and rebounder. Although she didn’t wind up getting drafted, she found her way to the W and became a solid contributor for the local team, the Dallas Wings. In 2018, she spoke about her game to the El Paso Times and said:
“I do whatever they ask of me. Defense, offense, whatever they have me do, I just work hard to make sure I’m ready for whatever opportunity presents itself. And I want to help the team win a championship.
Thornton has grown into one of the game’s best defenders throughout her time in the WNBA and can guard a variety of players no matter their position.
On January 16, the Liberty shook up the league when they acquired superstar forward, Jonquel Jones, from the Connecticut Sun in a three-team trade. Jones was the first landmark move for the Liberty as they later signed Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot in free agency. In that JJ trade, Kayla Thornton also came over and figures to play a big part in the Liberty’s quest to win the championship.
Currently, Thornton is playing for the Southside Flyers of the WNBL in Australia. In 18 games with the Flyers, KT is averaging 16.8 points in 30 minutes a game on 35.7% shooting from 3-point range. Thornton has years of overseas experience and has played in countries such as Israel, Puerto Rico, South Korea, and Italy. She took some time out of her schedule to conduct her first interview since the January trade. Thornton sat down to talk with Winsidr x Nets Republic’s Myles Ehrlich and Owen Pence on the debut episode of their new show, Pull Up with Myles and Owen. The guys asked Thornton about the benefit of playing overseas:
“Right now in my career, I use it as a tool to get better from leaving the WNBA and coming over here. [I’m] just working on different skills, working on my defense, sharpening that up. And I’m using this time to just prepare my mind [and] my body for the WNBA.”
Thornton mentioned she hasn’t yet gotten a chance to talk with Sandy Brondello and the Libs’ coaching staff, but will eventually as she gets ready for the season, still three months away. This time in the WNBL will give her the runway to sharpen her current skills, add some more items to her bag, and allow her to showcase her two-way skills on the court. Last season with the Wings, Thornton shot 69.2% on shots inside of the restricted area. With all of the attention Stewart, Jones, Sabrina Ionescu, and Betnijah Laney will get from opposing defenses, Thornton’s ability to make timely cuts and seamlessly fit into the offense will make her a valuable player coming off of the bench
For Liberty fans who may not be overly familiar with her game, she was asked about what she’ll bring to the seafoam, and she said:
“I’m just gonna bring grit. I’m gonna bring a warrior mentality. I’m gonna bring a dog mentality. I’m gonna do whatever needs to be done. You’re gonna see me all over the court on offense, defense, all that.”
As Myles and Owen noted, toughness and grit is a staple of New York basketball, whether men’s or women’s game. Fans love players that go hard, play at full speed every night, and have a toughness and passion to their game. Thornton has earned the reputation as being one of the game’s best and toughest defenders. She can guard positions one through four, is willing to do the dirty work, and has the potential to be a sparkplug on offense as well. Thornton has been a solid contributor all over the globe, and when she suits up for the Liberty this spring, she’ll bring that experience, savvy, and toughness to Brooklyn. The Liberty are in great position to capture their first championship, and KT will be a key part of their success in getting there.
You can listen to Myles and Owen’s debut episode below: