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Ex-LA Clipper is NLEX import

Al Thornton Although it can get an import with unlimited height, North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) has decided to go with six-foot-eight former NBA player Al Thornton.

The presence of 6-10 veteran center Asi Taulava made it easier for the Road Warriors to tap Thornton who was drafted 14th overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2007.

NLEX Coach Boyet Fernandez is optimistic that the 31-year-old Thornton is capable of helping them achieve their goal to make it to the playoffs next conference, which begins Jan. 28.

“Our situation with Asi made us realized that it’s better for us to get a three-four import (small forward/power forward). Instead of getting another center, we’ll have Asi play his usual spot and Al will play three or four,” said Fernandez.

“He’s a legit NBA player, he knows how to score, he can rebound and he can play defense, qualities that we are looking for an import,” added Fernandez, who already started practice session last Friday.

Fernandez said they actually looked for an import in the mold of Gilas Pilipinas naturalized player Andray Blatche, who at 6-foot-11 can play inside and outside as a power forward and center.

But with no available player, NLEX settled for Thornton, who is expected to arrive Friday. He last played for the Guayama Wizards, a pro team in Puerto Rico.

“I heard he’s in shape, but not in game shape. So we’ll just work on that,” said Fernandez, adding that there’s no question on Thornton’s credentials that included a six-year stint in the NBA.

Following his impressive four-year collegiate career with the Florida State Seminoles, Thornton had career high averages of 16.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 71 games he played during his second season with the Clippers.

Before the end of the 2010 season, the Clippers shipped Thornton to the Washington Wizards. The following year, the Wizards dealt the Perry, Georgia native to the Golden State Warriors on March, 2011.

In February 2012, Thornton started playing in Puerto Rico. He also suited up for the Zhejiang Lions (CBA) in China, but his stint there was cut short when he tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament).

“Matagal na naman yung ACL nya, so I don’t think it’s an issue,” said Fernandez.

NLEX is set to take part in the Dubai Invitational scheduled Jan. 14 to 25.

So far, only three teams have their respective imports. Kia will parade 7-foot-3 Puerto Rizal Peter John Ramos while Blackwater will have 7-foot-2 Chris Charles, the best import in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL).

The other nine teams, including defending champion Purefoods Star, are still looking for reinforcements.