Findlay Prep's Derryck Thornton Jr. is focused on being the best on the highest level

Findlay Prep's Derryck Thornton Jr. is focused on being the best on the highest level

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Findlay Prep's Derryck Thornton Jr. is focused on being the best on the highest level

Derryck Thornton said he competes to be on the level of top NBA point guards. / Jon Lopez

Derryck Thornton said he competes to be on the level of top NBA point guards. / Jon Lopez

On the surface, Derryck Thornton Jr. is quite an eerie enigma.

Here he is ranked No. 1 or No. 2, depending on which recruiting rankings you fancy, among point guards in the 2016 class, yet he’s downright resolute in his quest to “be considered the best point guard in the country.”

Puzzled?

When reminded that some already consider him top dog among floor generals, Thornton, without even trying, sums up the reason why, at the very least, he’s No. 1 when it comes to mindset.

“Oh, wait, no I’m not talking about in high school,” Thornton said matter of factly. “I already feel like I’m the best point guard in high school; I’m talking about in the NBA. I want to be considered on the same level as guys like Stephen Curry and Chris Paul and Damian Lillard and guys like that. I don’t set my goals for the level I’m at; I feel like I’m already on top. I’m just different.”

Indeed.

Careful not to chalk-up the Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) star’s unabashed proclamation as cocky; he readily admits, and is quite honestly proud of the fact that he harbors the mindset of an unranked, no-name recruit hoping someone, anyone will take notice.

As for him being a 17-year-old wanting to be mentioned among the NBA’s elite points; well, that’s been instilled in him since he was winning AAU National titles with ARC in the third grade.

“I’ve always taught him to think big and to set goals that most people think are crazy,” Thornton’s father Derryck Sr. said. “It keeps him hungry, it keeps him working, it keeps him not believing the hype.”

Even if it is warranted.

Not only do most of college basketball’s elite coaches want Thornton running the point at their school, he also has two Hall of Famers who want him so bad they just can’t wait another year.

“Coach K and Coach Pitino both want me to graduate this year so I can play next season,” Thornton said. “It’s exciting. Academically, I could do it. It’s an honor to have schools like Duke and Louisville wanting you period, but then for them to want you a year early is a big move.”

Too big?

ESPN recruiting analyst Reggie Rankin said he thinks Thornton is “definitely” capable of attending freshman orientation come June.

“He’s certainly talented enough,” Rankin said. “He basically plays against and practices with high major D-I guys every week. Now I think he could benefit from staying in his class to evaluate everything a little more, but his talent in undeniable. He plays hard, he’s always in attack mode, his mid-range game is exceptional and his draw-and-kick and draw-and-drop game is amazing. He’s special. I love his confidence; when you have confidence like that you’ve gotta back it up and he does.”

For now, Thornton said he’s put “even thinking” about the possibility of reclassifying on the back burner.

“There are a lot of schools that I really like,” Thornton said. “I’m just not sure about things, but I want to put everything I have in to trying to win a national title right now. I don’t want anything to be a distraction. After we play our last game I’m gonna look at everything a lot closer.”

Makes sense since Thornton was sidelined with an injury last year when the Pilots lost to Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) in the semifinals of the DICK’S Sporting Goods High School Nationals in New York City.

This year’s DICK’s Nationals runs from April 2-4.

“Can’t even tell you how hard it was to have to watch,” said Thornton, who is averaging 17 points and eight assists a game for the No. 8 Pilots (28-2). “We’re putting in the work to win a title and we definitely have the talent. For me it starts with defense.”

No, it’s not cliché/politically correct hogwash; evident of his bright idea to “get a defensive highlight mixtape instead of the ones showing all the dunks and none of the turnovers.”

Thornton’s No. 1 goal entering a game, aside from winning, is to “lock my man up defensively.”

He’s racked up more than 25 five-second calls and drawn 15 charges this season.

“I don’t want my man to score at all,” Thornton said. “That’s my mindset. Yeah, I want to get my teammates involved and run the team and all that, but that’s after I lock up. It does something to a guy when he can’t do anything offensively because you’re locking him up. At the end of the day I just want to be the best; that’s all.”

NBA point guards, you’ve been put on notice.

Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY

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