As a guard for the Syracuse University Women’s Basketball team, a graduate student in the sports communications track of the television, radio and film program and a student doing play-by-play commentary on a sport she typically experiences from the inside, Jayla Thornton meets every challenge with her go-to strategy: hard work and a steadfast dedication to her dreams.
Jayla Thornton is a graduate student in television, radio and film and a guard for the Syracuse University Women’s Basketball team. How does she do it all?
She just does it.
“My Mondays last semester, I would get up at 5 a.m. and go to practice,” she says, giving an example of what one day in her life is like. “We have practice from 6 to 9. I have a 9:30, so I have to run out. Then I have class all the way to 8:30 at night. Then by the time I get back to my room and eat, it’s probably like 9:30 because I’m on foot at that point. Then I’m going straight to sleep and starting in all over again. So when I have those breaks in between my classes, I’m doing all my homework because I know by the time I get home at night, I do not want to be staying up.”
It’s a system Thornton has been perfecting since she started playing collegiate women’s basketball during her undergraduate study at Howard University. Now, she’s following a sports media communications track and learning how to be a play-by-play commentator. When asked what she wants to do after she graduates in May, the answer is exactly what you’d expect from Jayla Thornton.
She wants to do it all.
“I want to do sports broadcasting, but basketball has been a part of my life for as long as I can think of,” she says. “I would love to keep playing if I had the opportunity. [Either one] makes me very excited and I hope that I have the opportunity to balance both.”
Part of that balancing act means covering men’s basketball games for her classes when she’s not on the court herself. “I remember one time, last month [after a game] I threw on a dress and talked about Joe Girard’s shooting.”
Given that men’s basketball gets significantly more media attention than women’s basketball, Thornton could be forgiven for feeling a bit resentful, but her focus is on what she can learn.
“It’s actually very eye-opening,” she says of her experiences behind the scenes at the men’s basketball games. “Most of the time, athletes—we play. You don’t realize how much time and [research] goes into prepping to call a game. It makes me appreciate all the hard work people do just to call our games.”
Thornton fashion understands that her unique experience as an athlete makes her a better sports commentator.
“I know what it feels to play a whole game and be tired and pressing the whole time,” she says. “Just having that empathy piece and realizing that they’re human at the end of the day. Of course, you’ve got to analyze it and say, ‘Hey, they should have done this, they should have done that.’ But I also truly understand in my heart how difficult it may be to [play so hard.]”
Just hearing about Thornton’s daily schedule may be enough to make most people want to take a nap, so a natural question is, how does she manage to do it all with a smile? Thornton credits her close relationship with her family.
“I talk to them every day,” she says of her parents, “even if there’s a day that’s so chaotic and I just don’t want to call them because it’s too late. I want to always keep that [connection] regardless of how crazy my life gets. I just need to talk to them because it makes me feel good.”
With graduation just a few months away, Thornton takes a philosophical stance on whatever is coming next. But whether she ends up in the WNBA or on ESPN, she knows that the sport she loves will always be a big part of who she is.
“Basketball has shaped me into who I am,” she says. “It just carries over into everything.”