ARLINGTON — During pregame warm-ups, it’s common to see players from the opposing team greet former teammates either from a previous WNBA stop or college days. It usually doesn’t amount to much more than a hug and a few friendly words.
But when the Washington Mystics saw Dallas Wings reserve and former teammate Kayla Thornton, they mobbed her and shrieked her name.
After all, it was no sure thing that they would see Thornton back in the WNBA.
The former UTEP star went undrafted in 2014 before receiving a training camp invite from Washington. Thornton did not make the team and went to play in Israel, leading the league in scoring with 20.1 points per game.
She returned to the Mystics and made the 2015 roster. But she only played in 10 games, averaging 2.2 points in 8.8 minutes. She did not get another WNBA chance in 2016, instead playing overseas in South Korea and Puerto Rico.
But she got her chance again this spring when the Wings invited her to training camp. The team took a low-risk gamble that her strength would allow her to play bigger than 6-foot-1 and allow her to play anywhere from shooting guard to power forward. She started both preseason games for Dallas and made the regular season roster.
“Just hard work and praying,” Thornton said of how she made it back to the WNBA, with the added bonus of being in her home state. “It’s a blessing.”
Thornton has become one of the Wings’ key reserves, contributing scoring that is visible in the box score and hustle plays that are not.
Take Dallas’ 101-89 loss to Washington on Tuesday night. Thornton checked in with 3:08 left in the first quarter and promptly hit two jumpers, including one over Olympian Elena Delle Donne. A few possessions later she dived to the court to force a jump ball.
When the Wings began to slip away in the second quarter, head coach Fred Williams sent Thornton back into the game. Straight away, she hit a 3-pointer to keep the team close. And when the Wings (3-5) attempted an ill-fated fourth-quarter comeback, it was Thornton who flew into a quartet of Mystics in position for a rebound to draw a loose-ball foul.
“She’s a sparkplug for us off the bench,” Williams said. “For her to be what you would call a walk-on to come on with us and help us out, it’s tremendous.”