Thorne was recently awarded the 2022 Leader for America Award for her dedication to supporting youth.
Erin Thorn has had a noteworthy career in women’s basketball from her high school days in Mountain View, to her four seasons at BYU, to over a decade as a pro in the WNBA and beyond. It is first all-time in Cougars history in 3-pointers and free throw percentage, and ranks in the top five in total points and assists.
Once her playing days were over, the Orem natives started a non-profit organization called Erin Thorn Elite Basketball consisting of club basketball teams, coaching opportunities, and other services for aspiring girls.
Thorn recently received CrisCom’s 2022 Leader for America Award in recognition of her “lifelong dedication to youth” and “mentoring students on life skills, community engagement, and college readiness,” per a press release.
The Salt Lake Tribune caught up with Thorne to discuss her time at BYU, what she thinks of her alma mater’s women’s basketball program, the state of the sport for women, and what it means for her to receive the award.
This Q&A session has been edited for length and clarity.
How much do you follow the BYU women’s basketball program nowadays?
Interestingly enough, Amber Whiting, my new trainer, is one of my good friends. So I keep in touch with her fairly regularly. She’s obviously busy and I’m busy coaching all these teams. But we check in every now and then and see how they do it and obviously track the results and how it works.
How would you rate the progress of the program this year under Whiting?
I think any time there’s a change in training, it’s a little bit of a culture change. And in the beginning, it’s hard – especially since a lot of the players are upper class – to change the culture with people who used to do it a certain way. Obviously, there were some bumps in the road along the way. But in general, now that they’re in [West Coast Conference play] And after some figuring out, I think they’ve been playing better lately.
With the growth women’s basketball has seen in the past few years, what is still required for it to get to the next level of attention, respect, or anything in that area?
all of this. I think it’s a combination of all of that. You hear it all the time: NBA guys love the WNBA. However, you get the average guy in society who thinks women’s basketball is rubbish. So it’s a shift in thinking, basically, in terms of that. And obviously then, which is much improved, any media coverage helps perpetuate it. So just having high-quality youth programs in place for the right reasons will benefit girls’ basketball. I think volleyball and soccer started at a very young age that a lot of times, you have to have some sort of [kindergarten] Up until third and fourth grade, something we give them just to get them in the door and make it fun for them and help them realize that basketball can be fun and then grow from there.
In terms of the popularity of women’s basketball, the way it’s marketed, the amount of media coverage, etc., how have you seen that change over the past several years, and how do you feel about its progression?
It’s been an exponential growth on this side of things. I think the WNBA has been big on that as far as exposure, especially here in Las Vegas, where we have the Aces. The last four years they moved here and then this year they won the championship. Any kind of vibration in the game of the ladies in your community helps guys. I know volleyball is great, and soccer is great. So, getting to know the professional league here in America Basketball, and especially in our community, helps us grow the sport, especially here in Las Vegas.
You mentioned Las Vegas. This franchise was in Utah when it first started. I lived in Utah, played high school and college there. What do you think about the potential for Utah to once again become a market for the WNBA?
I really think there are a lot of places that could be markets. I think Utah would be a great market. The hard part about the WNBA is getting ownership support, right? It’s the same with any professional sport. You must have proprietary support to expand anywhere. I think with the right people involved in Utah, I think it’s going to be great. I think people love jazz. I think even back in the day, people loved Starzz. I think it was more of an ownership decision just to move on from than anything else. So it’s just a matter of getting the right investors and getting the right ownership group. I think the community will get behind it, and it will be just as good for youth basketball there in Utah as it is in Vegas here with the Aces. It puts role models in front of you, basically, and gives you a chance to be within easy reach of something you aspire to do, or it puts those goals right in front of you and lets kids see that they really can be if you put the work in.
How do you feel about being recognized for this award?
It’s obviously a great honor. And everyone who understands it would probably say, “That’s not why we did it,” right? It’s not for confession, not for any of that stuff. It’s just for these kids. I always tell people: This is my push forward. I was fortunate to do many things with basketball and make it my career for a while. Now it’s time for a full cycle and I’ll teach it to the next generation.
When did you realize that working with children was something important to you?
When I was playing, I thought, “There’s no way I’m working with guys. I’m impatient. I just want to work with people who are highly skilled and are just developing and refining what they’ve already come up with.” Then in 2015, a friend connected me to the Boys Here program. [Las] Vegas, and I started training with them. Slowly but surely, I was like, well, this is cool. You can really see the changes these kids make in their game and grow more than what would happen at the higher levels. At higher levels, every change is subtle and not seen as radical. My freshman year, I had a co-ed boys and girls team that started this year losing to a team by 30. The next time we played, we lost by 10. Then the next time we played them in the tournament, actually beat them. So just the growth that you see in these kinds of circumstances and situations has kind of drawn me to the youth side.