The Dallas Wings’ 3-5 record isn’t too surprising given that they have the youngest roster in the league. One bright spot – and a very inspirational one, at that – is forward Kayla Thornton. The former UTEP star’s journey to a roster was long and winding.
This season Thornton has proven to be a reliable reserve, averaging almost eight points and four rebounds per game. She also makes other contributions that don’t always show in the box score.
Dallas players have had active hands on defense, and whenever they get down, they have become more aggressive offensively and attack the middle, as opposed to settling for outside shots. Thornton’s play has added to the Wings’ toughness in that regard.
Head coach Fred Williams said that when Thornton came to camp in shape, and he saw her slap glass on left- and right-handed layups, he knew she would be a good fit for this team.
“I’m serious, her jumping ability, her tenacity to get rebounds and certain things she does out there is excellent,” Williams said.
Thornton’s acumen is the result of a lot of hard work – and faith.
Despite being the all-time leading scorer and rebounder at UTEP by the time she graduated in 2014, her success didn’t immediately translate into a WNBA career. Thornton got her first shot in the league through a tryout with the Washington Mystics, but was cut before the season opener.
So she went to Israel, where she averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds – numbers that piqued the Mystics’ interests enough to give her a second look in 2015.
Unfortunately, her tenure with the team lasted just 10 games into the season before she was released.
Thornton said the coaches told her that due to her 6-foot-1 frame, she was undersized at the forward position and needed to focus on her guard skills. Accepting the challenge, Thornton went over the film and began to work on fixing the negatives.
She played in Puerto Rico that year, where she lead the league in scoring at 23 points per game. The next season she went to South Korea, where she averaged 14 points each game. This past spring she got another WNBA camp invitation, this time with the Wings. And after a solid training camp, Thornton made the roster.
She admitted that being cut two times tested her.
“At that point it was tough, but my family is a praying family – my mom is an evangelist,” Thornton said. “I just kept praying, knowing God has a better plan, and also keeping that fire.”
Thornton’s determination was as strong as her faith.
“This is what I want to do, and when you want to keep doing something you keep going at it until you achieve what you really want,” she said. “I think (my success) was due to praying and allowing God to have his way.”
Thornton said she never lost the vision of herself playing in the WNBA.
“I knew I was going to work on what they said I needed to work on, and that I’d keep fighting,” she said.
Now she focuses on making each day count with Dallas.
“I had the mindset of coming back and repeating and not giving up,” Thornton said. “All I do is come in every day and work hard and do what the coaches tell me. That’s all you can do at the end of the day.”
Although Thornton has earned a spot with the Wings, she said that she wants to continue to work on all aspects of her game, and that desire, as well as the pain of getting cut, is what drives her play on the court.
“Knowing it is not guaranteed any night you have to just come out and play hard,” she said.
She also appreciates that she has found a pro career in Texas.
“Being back in my home state is absolutely a blessing,” Thornton said.