After health scare, Thornton makes debut with Idaho Stampede

Rookie contributes for Idaho as Stampedewin big at home.

clangrill@idahostatesman.com © 2013 Idaho StatesmanDecember 1, 2013 

  • IDAHO TOPS RENO, IMPROVES TO 3-0

    A season ago, the Idaho Stampede struggled to be competitive early.

    A year later, they are making wins look easy.

    Idaho built a 34-point lead before going on to defeat the Reno Bighorns 108-80 in a rare afternoon game Saturday at Century-Link Arena.

    Forward Richard Howell notched his third double-double in three games for Idaho (3-0). The North Carolina State product went 11-for-19 from the field to lead the Stampede with 23 points and 12 rebounds.

    “He had a double-double at the half,” Stampede coach Michael Peck said. “He’s just a matchup problem. He has great hands and good footwork.”

    Peck said he’s excited about his team’s play, but he said he was going to remain cautiously optimistic as the team heads out on an eight-game road trip after playing its first three games at home.

    “It’s so early yet,” Peck said. “I’m getting a better feel for my team every game. … Each day, I feel more secure. We’ve got guys who can take the steering wheel out there.”

    NOTES: Idaho forward Dallas Lauderdale was a perfect 11-for-11 from the field in the first two games. He went 3-for-4 Saturday. … Former Stampede assistant coach Joel Abelson returned to CenturyLink Arena as head coach of the Bighorns.

Kellen Thornton put up bigger numbers while playing at Tennessee State.

But Saturday’s 108-80 victory over the Reno Bighorns wasn’t about statistics for Thornton.

No, for the 24-year-old forward from Chicago, Saturday’s game was about enjoying the moment.

“It felt good to be out there,” Thornton said.

A little more than a week ago, Thornton was gearing up for his pro debut after being selected by the Stampede in the second round of this year’s NBA Development League Draft.

Then, one day before Idaho’s opener, Thornton left practice and was taken to the hospital.

“I had a little heart trouble. … It was like a tightness in my chest, and I couldn’t catch my breath,” Thornton said. “But once I got to the hospital and got hooked up to the oxygen, it got better.”

Understandably, the episode was alarming for Thornton.

“Yeah, it scared me half to death, really,” he said.

Coach Michael Peck proceeded with caution, and held Thornton out of Idaho’s first two games. He chose to sit Thornton until he was cleared to play by the Portland Trail Blazers’ staff. Portland is the single NBA affiliate of the Stampede.

After passing all of the Trail Blazers’ tests Thornton returned to practice with Idaho last week without any issues.

That, in turn, cleared the way for Thornton to play Saturday.

“I was a little nervous at first, I’m not going to lie, but once I got my first basket, that kind of calmed my nerves and I was ready to go,” the 6-foot-7, 242-pounder said.

Peck wants to bring Thornton along slowly early in the season, so he limited his minutes. Still, Thornton made an impact in his 13-plus minutes, with six points, four rebounds, an assist and a steal.

“He’s got good ball skills, young legs and he can get off the ground,” Peck said of Thornton, who led Tennessee State in scoring and rebounding his senior season. “Plus, he’s strong. He has great hands and can rebound, so that’s why we need to start getting him some minutes early in the season. We’re going to need him as the season progresses.”

Idaho has 47 games remaining on its regular-season schedule for Thornton to develop.

Saturday, however, was about being out on the floor for the first time in a Stampede uniform.

“Tonight’s game really showed that I’m back, and that felt good,” Thornton said. “Now I’m ready for the next one.”

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