Bright future might be set

Men's Volleyball

Former UC Irvine setter Thornton is making the most of his opportunity with Team USA, which ventures to Long Beach.

June 30, 2011|By Barry Faulkner,
(Daily Pilot File…)

Brian Thornton always thought that by age 26, he'd be immersed in the real world, making a name and a career for himself that had nothing to do with squeezing off sets.

Instead, he finds himself starting for the U.S. national men's volleyball team in the World League, which comes to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. Team USA will play Puerto Rico on both nights.

Friday will, USA Coach Alan Knipe said, mark the eighth straight World League start for Thornton, who twice earned second-team All-American honors and helped lead UC Irvine to the program's first NCAA championship as a senior in 2007.

Thornton's run as a starter, created by a series of injuries at the position, has included a pair of wins over Brazil, the No. 1-ranked team in the world.

But while his proficiency on the court is no surprise to those who have followed Thornton's career, his presence in a USA jersey is a bit of a surprise, even to him.


"At the end of my senior year [after which he left as UCI's all-time assists leader with 4,.662], I was in [Anteaters Coach] John Speraw's office and he told me I had been invited to try out for the World University Games," Thornton said. "I remember thinking that it was probably the highest [level at which] I'll probably ever be able to play, so I'm going to go for that. That was going to be it for me. But, somehow, it just kept on going.

"It wasn't that I put limitations on myself [something others have always done due to his less-than-chiseled 6-foot-3 frame]," he said. "But I was at the point where I had played [college] volleyball for four years and I was going to move on and do something else. And then, it just didn't really go that way. I stepped away from volleyball for about a year and I realized I wasn't nearly as happy as I had been when I was playing. All my friends were overseas playing and I realized 'I've got to do it. There was no way I could not play. I'm only young once and there's a ton of time to do other things. Let's give this a shot.'"

Thornton, who helped the U.S win bronze at the 2007 World University Games, began his professional career in Spain in 2009-10. It was an inauspicious start.

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