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Averaging an astounding 36.3 minutes a game, Barkley has done the job so well that he essentially has become an extension of Jarvis on the court, constantly retreating to the sideline for instructions before calling out plays to his teammates.
"I think [Barkley's] leadership role is unquestioned," says Raftery. "I think Jarvis trustsand that's a big wordhis decision-making and relies on his steady play. It's like football. [The coach] doesn't talk to all 11 players, he talks to one."
If Barkley's demeanor is that of a head coach, then Thornton appears comfortable as a supportive assistant, gathering the team together after an opponent's basket or patting a teammate on the back after Jarvis has imparted some stern wisdom to the player. "He's probably one of the calmer guys," notes St. John's assistant Kevin Clark. "He remains pretty level."
Thornton's on-court demeanor is indicative of his maturity and work ethic, which were needed to convince a coach who had initially passed on him in high school. A forward at Baltimore's Dunbar High School who relied strictly on slashing to the basket, Thornton initially failed to impress Jarvis, then coach at George Washington, who recruited Thornton's teammate, 5-4 guard Shawnta Rogers instead.
In his time in Tallahassee, Thornton developed a jump shot enticing enough for former Red Storm coach Fran Fraschilla, who brought Thornton back up north. Enter Jarvis again, now confronted with a player who had once made 17 consecutive three-pointers in practice. "I remember talking with Mike Jarvis before last year," recalls Bradley. "And he told me Thornton can be good if we get him to play defense. Well, he did play some defense and then he just erupted."
Look at the statistics. For all the ink understandably spilled on Artest and Barkley, it was Thornton who led the Red Storm in scoring last season (14.9), while adding 4.5 rebounds a night. This year, says Raftery, "Thornton's a guy you have to gear a lot of things to. He posts up, he's got terrific range and he's got an air about him, a confidence that if he misses some [shots], it's not going to deter him."
Having improved individually in the past year, the duo has been working on creating a backcourt chemistry that could carry the team to the upper echelons yet again. "It's definitely better [than last year]," says Barkley. "Bootsy knows where I'm going to be on the courtwhere I'm comfortable shootingand I know where he's comfortable shooting. I know his defensive stance and he knows mine. It's just a matter of time before we click."
For Mike Jarvis and a St. John's team facing almost a month without Barkley, that time won't come soon enough.