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Austin Thornton instilling winning culture in first season at Sparta

Former MSU Spartan leads Sparta to hot start
Austin Thornton
Posted at 9:44 PM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 23:07:09-05

SPARTA, Mich. — The Sparta boys basketball program has been through a lot of ups and downs over the past few seasons.

However, the players say this season just feels different after a hot start that includes a 44-point and 36-point victory.

Former Cedar Springs standout and Michigan State co-captain, Austin Thornton is in his first year as head coach and is hoping to take the program to new heights.

Austin Thornton leads Sparta to hot start

"I'm not proud to say this, but I'm used to losing a lot," said senior center, John Rozema, "this year there's something different."

It's safe to say the players aren't used to back-to-back 30-plus point victories like what's happened over the past few weeks.

"We won, pretty convincingly in both games," Thornton explained, "but I walk into the locker room at the end of both games and it was eerily quiet," he added.

Sparta's Austin Thornton

"I walked in and was like, 'hey guys is everything okay, what's wrong?' And big John Rozema goes, 'Coach, we're not used to winning this big so we're not sure how to celebrate,'" Thornton laughed.

Thornton was introduced in October as the program's next boys basketball coach and the players couldn't contain their excitement.

"A lot of respect I think," said senior guard, Conner West, "just knowing that he's seen it all, he's coached with Michigan State, played at Michigan State, he's got a lot of experience. We can trust him and that he will lead us the right way."

Austin Thornton
Austin Thornton leads drills during boys basketball practice on February 17.

Fellow senior guard, Sumerpreet Singh says he's taught them a lot in a few short months.

"I was just really excited because I heard where he's from, he really knows what he's talking about," Singh added.

While Thornton is of course thrilled about the hot start, he gives all of the credit to his senior class, especially after all they've been through.

"They've really bought in to the system we're trying to run which is giving them a lot of freedom, using their strengths and weaknesses and bringing those together for the betterment of the team," Thornton said.

And after six seasons under Tom Izzo, four as a player and two as a graduate assistant, Thornton has learned a lot as he now looks to instill those values on his program.

Austin Thornton with Tom Izzo
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, right, talks with guard Austin Thornton after Thornton fouled out during the second half of a college basketball game on Jan 14, 2012 in Evanston, Ill. Northwestern won 81-74. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)

"You cannot outwork work, you cannot out-talent work, ultimately those who put the time and effort in are going to be successful."

The players are confident they can keep the wins coming as they continue to play together under Thornton's leadership.

"He's taught us a lot of information in the past few months that we've known him and I feel like we're only going to learn more and more from him," said Rozema.

And the senior class say they feel they have what it takes to win a conference championship and make a run in the postseason tournament.

"We're playing a lot better this year," West added, "I think we're putting all the pieces together and playing together as a team."

The (3-1) Spartans will continue OK Silver play in the coming days, at Kelloggsville on Friday before traveling to NorthPointe Christian on Tuesday.