Athlete of the Week: Charlotte Hornets forward JT Thor

Published: Dec. 28, 2021 at 10:23 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - JT Thor’s love for basketball was planted in Anchorage, Alaska and has since flourished into the the sport’s highest level — the NBA.

“I consider it home,” the rookie forward for the Charlotte Hornets said via Zoom after a team shootaround. “... I consider that my city.”

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Thor, one of eight children, moved to Anchorage at the age of 5, living in Fairview until the age of 14. After his freshman season on the West Anchorage High School junior varsity program, Thor was faced with a tough, but potentially rewarding decision of where to finish his high school basketball career.

“After my freshman year I knew I wanted to leave because I was just trying to plan out my next three years,” the consensus four-star recruit said. “... One of my teammates at the time ... he moved to Virginia, and so I had already had kept in touch with him and his father. So the transition was kind of easy, because I went there, that was like the first place I went to was Virginia. And I was living with them for a couple months. And I got noted by scouts like as soon as I got there, so it was pretty crazy. That’s where it kind of took off.”

Thor knew the moment he took off from Alaska that his life was going to change for not only the immediate future, but that his decision could potentially kickstart an NBA career.

“(It was) very tough man, very tough,” Thor added. “I wanted to go back and just hang out with my friends ... to be like a kid again. I feel like when I left, it was just straight work. I loved it though, but at the same time, I wanted to go back and hang out with my friends in the neighborhood and things like that.”

It is safe to say it that things ultimately worked out for Thor, graduating from Norcross High School in Georgia, before earning a scholarship to the Division I Auburn University. Averaging 9.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game in his one-and-done season a War Eagle, it was Thor’s raw athleticism that captured the eyes of professional scouts, standing at 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, eventually being selected 37th overall to the Hornets in the 2021 NBA draft.

FILE - In this Feb. 27, 2021, file photo, Tennessee guard Jaden Springer (11) puts up a shot...
FILE - In this Feb. 27, 2021, file photo, Tennessee guard Jaden Springer (11) puts up a shot over Auburn forward JT Thor (10) during the second half of an NCAA basketball game in Auburn, Ala. Springer played one season with the Volunteers and is one of the top shooting guards in the NBA draft. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)(Butch Dill | AP)

Now that he is in the league, he has to repeatedly answer questions about his upbringing in Alaska.

“They don’t believe I am from Alaska at all and I have to explain how it is,” Thor said of teammates and fellow NBA players. “They ask me questions like, ‘oh does it get dark the whole year?’ and I basically explain to them the whole rundown. I have probably explained it like 100 times already.”

Spending the early portion Charlottes’ G-League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm, Thor got his big league call-up on Dec. 13 against the Philadelphia 76ers — and Thor made an emphatic entrance.

Catching a pass baseline during the first quarter, Thor gathered into a two-foot jump and hammered home a left-handed slam on top of NBA All-Star Andre Drummond.

“When he passed it to me I already knew I was going up,” Thor remembered of his first career NBA points. “I had just seen Drummond out there, I was like, ‘oh, I gotta do it to him.’ ... and shoot you know what happened then. Had to drop the tomahawk.”

Since he burst onto the scene with that thunderous dunk, Thor has played a total of eight games, tallying 24 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, four steals and three blocks as of publishing.

While he was immediately welcomed to the league with applause after the Sportscenter worthy play, Thor has also experienced his own ‘welcome to the league’ moments.

“I remember De’Aaron Fox was lighting us up ... we couldn’t guard him,” Thor said. “I would switch on him every time and he was just too fast.”

Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox (5) attempts to drive past Charlotte Hornets forward JT...
Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox (5) attempts to drive past Charlotte Hornets forward JT Thor (21) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Matt Kelley)(Matt Kelley | AP)

Through the growing pains, which Thor noted includes learning how to have a short memory, he has had guidance from respected veterans of both past and present.

“For one, Ish Smith, my teammate, my point guard now,” Thor said. “In Miami we had a little mini camp going on and he would just tell me the rundown of his first couple years.

“Luol Deng, he’s Sudanese just like me, so he will give me tips in the summer,” he continued. “... The day before the draft he would just tell me like, the rundown, the emotions people go through and all that type of stuff.”

While receiving tips from those who came before him, Thor also serves as a role model for the youth in the Anchorage community and beyond.

“You got to have a different mentality,” Thor said on advice to kids hoping to be in his sneakers. “You’ve got to work harder than your peers, like that is what’s got to drive you. You gotta to want to become better than them. Like say you’re laying down sleeping, you just got to have the feeling that someone else is getting better and that has to cause some fuel and ... drive you to your goal you want to accomplish.”

While basketball has taken him to different parts of the world against the best opponents in the world, he will always consider Anchorage home.

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) and Charlotte Hornets forward JT Thor (21) smile prior...
Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) and Charlotte Hornets forward JT Thor (21) smile prior to an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Matt Kelley)(Matt Kelley | AP)

“That was the place where I’d been the longest, that is where I spent most of my childhood, like my whole childhood,” Thor said. “That’s where I met most of my friends, that’s where I went to elementary, middle school and then one year of high school so it’s like considered my city, Anchorage, Alaska.”

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