Sterling Thornton's reaction confirmed for Jim Preston that he'd made the right decision.
The even-keel Sterling freshman greeted his coach promoting him to varsity about a month ago by picking up his proverbial lunchpail.
"It was pretty much like his reaction on the floor: 'OK. I'm ready to go,' " Preston said.
And did he go. In his second varsity game, Sterling's most willing/able shooters, Zach Rehmert and Alex Soriano, were struggling from the floor in Rock Island.
While the Warriors fell 86-32, the silver lining was Thornton stepping into action and not hesitating to pull the trigger.
"We got our butts beat, me and Alex weren't hitting anything, and Sterling comes in and drops like 15 points," Rehmert remembered. "That's when I realized, 'This kid can play at this level.' "
It was six points, but who's counting? What's important was the fearlessness with which Thornton went at the mighty Rocks.
"He can shoot the ball really [well], and he's an aggressive player," Soriano said.
For Thornton, he knew he'd arrived when he hit the jumper that forced overtime against Ottawa on Jan. 22. Those were two of his 20 points to go with three rebounds, two steals, two blocks and an assist. It was his fourth start.
There have been freshman moments, no doubt. But Thornton's even-keel demeanor has allowed him to bounce back quickly.
Thornton admits his shot took some refining. Not so much mechanically, but mentally.
Every time a jumper drops, an assist goes to his dad, Andy, who preaches a mantra of confidence as they relentlessly work together every summer.
"The next one's always going in," Thornton recited after practice Thursday. "Just forget about the last one."
Soriano and Rehmert have helped drive that home. The former got in the prodigy's ear after two airballs in his first varsity game.
"I just had to yell to him and tell him that they're all right," Soriano said. "It happens. It's your first game. You'll get through it."
During an open gym shootaround Sunday, Rehmert echoed that sentiment. He couldn't miss. Thornton couldn't pay a shot to fall.
"Rehmert came over and just said, 'You've gotta forget about it. The next one's going in,' " Thornton said. "It didn't make me feel too good, because he made about 19 out of 20."
He and Rehmert have bonded on and off the court. When they're not working on the real hardwood, they regularly square off in NBA2K on XBox.
"They pal around a little bit together, and you don't know exactly how many wins a season or how many points that's worth," Preston said. "It's another intangible thing. They're starting to develop a sort of sixth sense."
Preston repeatedly mentions intangibles when he talks about his upstart freshman. And they tend to show up in winning time.
"The thing about Sterling that's been so refreshing is that, in the fourth quarter of some really close games, that's when he's been his biggest," Preston said.
Games/started Ppg. Rpg. Spg. Apg. Bpg.
5.5 2.2 0.7 0.6 0.5