Before the 2012-2013 season the UNO Mavericks men’s basketball team picked up a walk on transfer from St. Cloud State named Mike Rostampour, and no one really thought anything of it.
Nitro Rostampour is working out in the Sapp Fieldhouse when John Karhoff walks in.
John Karhoff: The name’s Karhoff.
Nitro Rostampour: Uh…Nitro, hi.
John Karhoff: Interesting nickname, what’s your real name?
Nitro Rostampour: Nitro…I’m working on a nickname, though.
John Karhoff: Oh yeah?
Nitro Rostampour: Yeah. Listen to this……Mike.
That’s probably not exactly how it happened, but I’m sure it’s pretty darn close. By the way, if you haven’t seen Down Periscope, we’ll probably never get along. Also, I don’t care what you say, “Nitro Rostampour” flows pretty well.
I didn’t get to go to any basketball game during UNO’s first transition year because I was living in Ogden, Utah for a big chunk of that year. My wife and I moved back to Omaha in March after the season. I got to stream a few of the games and my thoughts were never really negative but kind of bummed that it was going to take so much time to get through this transition process. Waiting for 2015-2016 was going to be rough, I thought.
By the way, Tre’Shawn Thurman, per the recruiting websites I saw you had an offer to Utah State. I don’t know how serious they got with you, or if you ever visited, but trust me, Utah is not the place to be. Before my cable got set up, my wife and I asked someone where a good sports bar was so we could go watch the Nebraska and Oregon football games and they told us Applebee’s. Freaking Applebee’s!
Anyway, I began focusing my attention to the recruiting and any player that would be on the roster when the program finally became eligible for the NCAA tournament. The 2012 recruiting class was kind of cool I guess. This was sort of UNO’s first actual division one recruiting class. Justin Simmons, Alex Phillips, Marcus Tyus, Jalen Bradley, Indiana State transfer Koang Dulouny (who would leave the team after 7 games), and Mike Rostampour as a walk on.
I read everything I could about that first recruiting class, tried to find the videos on each of them (that sounds creepy out of context), but there wasn’t much on any of them really. Marcus Tyus had a few videos, everyone else just had some articles about them. You really had to dig deep on the internet to find anything on any of them, and the internet isn’t small. I still thought and hoped that these guys could all help, they could all contribute and help the program improve, and get it to where it needs to be by 2015-2016. Before the 2012 season started, UNO picked up a commitment from Rylan Murry (and one too from Nick Billingsley), and I was thinking – oh this Murry guy has offers from Central Michigan and South Dakota! The only guy in the 2012 class I could find with a scholarship offer from anywhere else was Alex Phillips with an offer from Eastern Illinois. Not that none of the others didn’t have any, they just at least weren’t that widely reported at least.
So I see we have this 6’8″ walk on named Mike Rostampour, and I don’t think much of him. The thoughts running through my mind were: He averaged 8ppg and 5rpg at St. Cloud State as a sophomore, I’m sure Simon Krych could do that (he’s currently averaging 1.8ppg and 2.2rpg as a junior at St. Cloud State)…Rostampour just came to UNO to say he’s a D-1 player, but he’s not actually a D-1 player…Wait, he can shoot 3s?…Well at least we can have some height on the bench…Look at those tattoos, what a jerk store. Could he really be better than Rylan Murry, Simon Krych, or Matt Hagerbaumer?…
I don’t remember what I was busy with, but it was difficult for me to get to games in the 2012-2013 season at first. I finally got to go when they played Western Illinois in January. I watched everyone in warm ups, I see Rostampour, I think to myself – I’m not excited about that guy, hopefully Jalen Bradley is getting ready for next year… UNO lost that game by 15, they only got out rebounded by 6 rebounds but it seemed like so much more. Rostampour caught my attention that game. How did a walk on guy who is red shirting grab my attention? Every time John Karhoff, Alex Welhouse, or Matt Hagerbaumer got outworked for a rebound, Rostampour had a look on his face as if he was being tortured. Every time there was a time out, Rostampour was the first to run out and greet his teammates to the bench. Even as a red shirt, he was doing as much as he possibly could to help everything in the program improve. The Mavs couldn’t rebound that year and you could tell it was killing Rostampour.
Before the start of the 2013-2014 season, Mike Rostampour is awarded a scholarship and gets the nod to be in the starting line up. Okay, what? The walk on? The Junior College to Division 2 to Division 1 walk on is going to start? Really, why I am surprised? A bulk of the roster is former Division 2 players. Rostampour is in foul trouble in just about every single game at first, but in the time he was out on the court, the team is clearly a better rebounding team. Matt Hagerbaumer also looks to be a better rebounder, maybe it was self improvement or maybe Rostampour helped him get better, I don’t know. But rebounding is no longer the team biggest weakness. Well, it is, but it has clearly improved now, and it’s not going to get them blown out by 30 or 40 anymore. Once Rostampour adjusted to the speed of the game, and the officials being more touchy with their foul calls, he was able be an impact on the floor. The Mavs got better and better once he figured that out.
The added toughness in general was also needed to add to that roster. Before Rostampour, the body language on the players was basically screaming – why the hell are we out here, what are we even playing for? Rostampour changed that when he was on the court, there was more fight in everyone’s eyes. You also have to credit Justin Simmons and Devin Patterson to adding some fight in the team, but a lot of it did come from Rostampour. The boy band needed a tough guy. Without Rostampour, the 30-40 point beat downs from Big 12 and Big 10 teams would’ve continued. Rostampour gave them a fighting chance. Rostampour came to UNO at exactly the right time. When UNO goes up against South Dakota State’s Cody Larson or IPFW’s Steve Forbes we’re not sitting there saying, “oh well that guy will murder us down low,” instead we’re saying, “that’s okay, we have Rostampour.”
During the Marquette game, I showed someone the score on my phone that UNO won the game and they instantly said “have you seen UNO’s center? He’s a freak.” After a home loss to Denver last season, I was hanging out in the bar in the Ralston Arena after the game a little while with a friend. We were walking out and we walked by Rostampour, we couldn’t help but stare, partially out of fear that he may want to fight us. He noticed us and thanked us for coming out to the game, even though he had a look on his face as if the Pioneers just stole his puppy. I don’t think anyone should ever be afraid of saying anything bad about Rostampour, in a way, I think it feeds him to get better. Like, someone said something bad about me? I’m going to go kill a basketball by squeezing it to death.
Yeah, Rostampour brings attention to UNO, people want to see him. He’s UNO’s first legitimate rebounder since transition. Barring some injuries, he should end up with most career rebounds since transition. He’ll have more than Matt Hagerbaumer and John Karhoff, and they had 3 years to his 2 years in that time frame. His 21 rebounds against North Dakota in the CIT was the most any Maverick had in a division one game, his 239 rebounds his junior year is the most rebounds any Mav has had in D-1. His 7 double-doubles are the most for any D-1 Mav (yeah okay the D-1 history is young, but still). But my perception is that Rostampour never thinks he’s better than anyone else, I believe he thinks he constantly has to prove himself and proving himself is showing everyone how hard he works. His driving force is the need to get better and improve in anyway he can. You ever look at his twitter? At first it was all about him taking pride in him and the Mavs working to improve. His description is: C Team-Juco-D2-Walk on = Current OMAHA POWER Forward. You ever have a truly awful job and when you first start out they tell you a success story about how the CEO started exactly where you are, as just a regular part-time employee and worked their way up. That’s Rostampour, he’s the CEO that remembers when he had to clean the bathrooms. I’m probably way off, but that’s just what I see. By the way, I really hope no one makes the walk ons and red shirt players clean the bathrooms.
I think the first thing I ever saw him do was air ball a 3. I thought, along with everyone around me, oh well this is a transitional team, we can’t get the good guys yet. Each and every game Rostampour improves. He hears a few people comment on his air balls, or his fouls, or all the tattoos, and he works to improve it. He’s Mike Rostampour, he’s always ready to go.
When the Mavs are on the road, he’s the one the home team’s fans hate the most… How can that guy be good? He wouldn’t even start if he played for us… When Rostampour first started at UNO he said he wanted to be the Mavs’ Chris Andersen – The Birdman. Probably my least favorite player in the NBA, but if you want to be Chris Andersen, you’re going to be the player the opposing team hates each and every single time. Yeah, okay, if he played for a Nebraska, Creighton, or a Minnesota he wouldn’t be getting the minutes that he gets at UNO, not too many people are going to argue that, but you can’t tell me those teams wouldn’t be better with Rostampour coming off the bench and giving you everything he possibly could in his time on the court. The Birdman – or Nitro – doesn’t care about the amount of minutes, he cares about making the most of those minutes. He’s not worried about the skills he doesn’t have, he’s concentrated on how to make the most of the skills he does have and making damn sure the team benefits from those skills.
“A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop those skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals” — Larry Bird