After 45 years, it’s time UTEP women’s basketball gets some recognition. More specifically, it’s time Kayla Thornton gets some recognition. It’s time UTEP retires her jersey. No more waiting, no one else, just her.
The next time a jersey is raised to the rafters at the Don Haskins Center, it should be Thornton’s jersey.
The 2018-19 season marks five years since Thornton last played for the Miners, wearing the number five jersey. In short, she is the greatest player in program history. But her greatness started before she stepped on campus.
A product of Northeast El Paso, via military parents, Thornton was a standout athlete at Irvin High School. Along with being the most dominant player in the city, she was a star athlete in track & field as well—qualifying for state in the 100-meter hurdles her senior year.
She led the Rockets to district titles and racked up individual accolade after individual accolade. In high school she was known for overwhelming physicality—she was bigger, faster, and stronger—out-jumping, running and bruising her opponents for every rebound and basket.
In college, not much changed. After adapting to the faster paced collegiate game, it was business as usual for Thornton. She coupled her great physical talents with hard work and an unmatched determination on the court.
She was the springboard that catapulted the UTEP women’s basketball to unseen heights. Thanks to Thornton, then head coach Keitha Adams and a litany of great roles players, the Miners experienced their winningest four-year run in program history.
On top of that, she retired as the program’s all-time leader in field goals made, free throws made, points, rebounds and double-doubles.
In summation, Thornton checked off just about everything you could check off to get a jersey retired. Granted, there are players that preceded Thornton that deserve the distinction as well, but no one is more deserving.
Her sheer athleticism, skills and work ethic combined with her record setting career statistics and contribution to team success is unrivaled in program history. Furthermore, she is one of the best female athletes to come out of UTEP Athletics in the past 20 years.
Whether it was at a high school gym in Northeast El Paso or the Don Haskins Center, she dominated. Anyone who ever saw her play would not say otherwise. If anything, Thornton is one of the best athletes to come from the Sun City, let alone UTEP.
Past achievements aside, you can now find Thornton playing for the Dallas Wings. After a small stint with the Washington Mystics in 2015, she went overseas playing in Israel before finding a home with the Wings.
Thornton was a key contributor to Dallas’ 2018 playoff run. Starting 32 of 34 games, she set career-high marks across the boards. If the El Paso native’s WNBA career keeps trending upwards, she will probably set a new standard for UTEP Miners in the professional ranks.
UTEP women’s basketball will probably never ascend the heights of the men’s program. The pathos of the ‘66 team is what the city thrives on. The ‘80s saw the most dominant decade for UTEP men’s basketball—notable for the insane crowd noise—the “Don” was one of the most intimidating environments in college basketball.
But for a small time, Thornton & Company, were the program to see. They didn’t get too much fan support or media notoriety, but they did a lot more winning than the men. They soldout games during their historic NIT run in 2014—arguably providing the most memorable games of the decade—and Thornton was to thank for that.
If all of that is not worth retiring a jersey, I don’t know what is. Retire Kayla Thornton’s jersey.
Javier Cortez may be reached at [email protected]