Toughness: From Rostampour to Thurman

So I started this over two weeks ago, but I got sidetracked with a few things.  I work two jobs, my wife had a family reunion, and also I pumped the brakes on this because I have been listening to a bunch of motivational speech compilations on YouTube because I was motivating myself to be a bad ass for a promotion at my place of business…so I did not want this too come off too preachy…or douchey.  I tried to edit this a bit to make it not too douchey, but I don’t know, screw you, I’m dumb.

Have you read Mike Rostampour’s blog?  It’s actually really something special.  Maybe it is the timing that I have found an interest in it.  Due to some just personal situations, I have been listening to a bunch of motivational speeches on YouTube the last couple of weeks, just trying to figure this whole life thing out and whatnot.  I think Rostampour’s blog and story provides some teaching lessons for athletes, but it is quite possible that the most important stories are the ones that were never told.

Side note:  in the middle of writing this, by complete coincidence, I saw Tre’Shawn Thurman tweet about Mike Rostampour’s blog.

As someone who is not even 5’10”, I typically find myself pondering, what if I would have made it to 6 foot, would I of had a chance at playing basketball longer in the life?  The answer is simple…the answer is fucking no.  When I ask myself that question, the question is based on the assumption that you need to be tall to play basketball.

I worked pretty hard at basketball, before I understood what hard work really was too.  My friends and I played basketball every day in the summer, no matter how hot it got, we played ball; if it rained, we played too.  The only thing that ever stopped us was a blizzard.  The unfortunate thing was that my parents did not know how to get me involved into basketball leagues.  They thought me playing in the driveway was enough to prepare me.  It was not until I was 14 and I participated in my high school’s basketball camp that I actually figured things out.  When I first started out in the camp, I could not catch the ball from certain passes.  There were just so many things that I had never seen that I could have learned when I was younger if I would have gotten involved earlier.  Despite not seeing all of these situations on the court that I was seeing and learning for the first time, my strengths in basketball was my court vision, ball handling, and passing.  My shooting was not too bad either back at that time, but it was not great.  My weaknesses were things you would expect in a guy that had not played any real competitive games or actually been coached:  poor footwork, poor defense, lack of confidence, lack of toughness.

Toward the end of camp, we were playing in a pick up game, and this kid and I were getting into it, and he started talking smack and telling me that I sucked and that I would never be on the team.  Despite what the freshman team coaches told me, that I would make the team, I believed this kid’s negative talk.  I walked away from competitive basketball, I quit before I even had a real chance.  Essentially, like most people in this world, I was afraid of failure.  I told myself a little bullshit story in my head that I would work out by myself on drills and come out my sophomore year as a new man, but I didn’t do that…I didn’t grow from failure.  I still played pick up games in the gym.  My sophomore year I was in a game with a kid that was First Team All State, and he dismantled me.  For every 10 great plays he had, I had one great play.  I let it get to me.  I should have looked at it as a learning lesson to work harder, but at the time I did not see the point.

Everyone wants to be successful, but not many want to put in that work.  Many college students want to be successful, but not as much as they want to party; and I admit that I was in that camp for a while.  Many young people think that they can be professional partiers because of shows like Jersey Shore and Real World.  Unsuccessful people try to pick apart the people that are actually working toward success, and make fun of them for working and try to expose their potential failure.  I saw some people make fun of Rostampour for thinking he could be in the NBA someday.  I also know about 100 dudes that said Anthony Tolliver would never make the NBA.  Tolliver realized what skills he needed to make the NBA, I remember him saying he needed to add a consistent three point shot to his game to set himself apart from 6’8″ and 240lbs guys like him.  He went to Europe to play, made the NBA, got cut, played in the NBDL, made the NBA, got cut, went back to Europe, went back to the NBDL again, and finally found a niche with the Golden State Warriors.  How many people were making fun of him along the way and thought he should have just quit and be a really bad ass real estate agent?  Too many.

So, why bring this up?  Now, I know that I am not the only kid on the planet to go through this.  Why the answer to, would I have made it at 6 foot is no, is because toughness is what I lacked.  It does not matter if you are 5’3″ or 6’7″, if you do not try, if you quit, when you fail, then you are not going to get anywhere.  If you read the Rostampour blog, you see the struggle that it is to become a division one athlete.  Growing up, I thought most division one athletes were there because they were naturally gifted and everything worked out perfectly for them.  Nope.

It is not until I met my wife that I understood how much work went into being a division one athlete.  I learned of how many sacrifices she had to make to achieve her goals.  She never went to a party in high school, because she was too busy putting up threes in the gym, or getting in as many swings as she could get in the batting cages.  Her family did not go on many vacations because they put money into her softball equipment and travel expenses for her travel ball team.  She did not get to spend much time with her then boyfriend (which I secretly applaud) because of all the hard work she had to put into softball, basketball, and academics.  Every time I watch some movie that came out from 1998-2005 with my wife, it is basically the first time she has ever seen that movie.  She did not even have the time to watch movies at that stage in her life.  My wife is incredibly tough and competitive as well.  We both have Fitbits and we do challenges, if I ever have more steps than her she will go crazy and walk around our apartment until she is 500 steps ahead of me and then gives me a talk on how she has to get ahead of me because she did not become the athlete she became by underestimating her opponents.

How many high school athletes have you heard of that quit on their sport because their girlfriend, that eventually broke up with them anyway, did not want to go to college where they were getting D-1 offers to?  Would you rather tell people that you failed or that you quit?  Not many people want to put that much work into anything anymore.  It is too easy to give up.  It is much easier to pay someone to fix your car (and screw you over) than it is to learn to do it for yourself.  In the fitness field my wife tells many people the same thing that applies to this…that if it was easy, then everyone would be thin.

Recently, I tweeted to Rostampour saying that I thought he was EXACTLY what UNO needed when he showed up.  I wrote about that, I meant it, and I still mean it.  There was not much fight in a transitioning team in just their second year when he joined the team as a walk on.  When I first read the Omaha World Herald article about a post player transferring from St. Cloud State, I admit it, I had negative thoughts.  My first thought was: this guy just came to UNO just to say he was a D-1 guy.  I under estimated everything about Rostampour, and I know I am not the only one.  He became the tough guy of the boy band, added some spice, and built himself up to be the emotional leader.

When I first saw him live and up in person the year he redshirted, I saw him standing there and I just did not think much of it.  Then at every timeout, when his teammates would come to the bench, Rostampour was always the first to greet his team to the bench.  It was what he could contribute in games, he could have just sat there with an Ah Shucks look on his face the whole time, but he did not waste a second of that time he had to sit out.  Every time his teammates would get outworked for a rebound, you could see him look up to God and ask if he could transfer his toughness to that player somehow, or if the NCAA would just randomly change a rule and he could just go into the game at that moment.

Reading about how hard he worked in that redshirt year is inspiring.  There was no guarantee that he would eventually get a scholarship.  It had to be earned.  That is a problem with us as people.  We say that a player has received a scholarship offer.  We say that we have received our degree or our diploma.  No.  Players earn scholarship offers, and even walk on offers.  We earn college degrees.

Rostampour said (paraphrasing) he hoped he left some toughness for the team to learn from it and grow.  At this point, let me just say that I do think that guys like John Karhoff, Matt Hagerbaumer, Justin Simmons, CJ Carter, Alex Phillips, Jake White, Devin Patterson, Marcus Tyus, and other Mavericks have had toughness.  But Rostampour toughness?  This is probably where you think I will complain that the team will never have that level of toughness and intensity ever again, but no…actually I think Rostampour said after the Mavs opening game against Central Arkansas that Jake White went into that game with an incredible amount of intensity and toughness…but here I am talking about that sophomore forward Tre’Shawn Thurman could be taking over that toughness role, if not his sophomore season, then definitely in his junior season.  I am not just talking about the physical toughness, I am mostly talking about mental toughness, probably one of the most important things you can have in life.

As an Omaha guy, I can tell you this about Thurman.  There were mixed emotions from people that pay attention to Omaha/Nebraska high school basketball.  This guy I met, who appeared to be a walking Nebraska High School Basketball Encyclopedia had nothing but great things to say about Thurman.  He literally did not say one negative thing about Thurman, and there were some current and former Nebraska high school athletes that he had some negative things to say about their games and mindsets.  He told me that Thurman as a freshman, is better than a bulk of what was on Creighton’s roster in 2014-2015.  That he could have gone to play just about anywhere, maybe not be in every team’s rotation right away, but could play on most teams.  Then there were others around here who said negative things.  Some said he was too inconsistent, that he was lazy and that is why he did not end up at a bigger college, that in some games in high school it just appeared that there were nights that he did not seem to care, and other things.  Go ahead and check out Husker Hoops Central on what they (mostly bitter Nebrasketball fans) said about Thurman and Benson’s Khyri Thomas (now at Creighton) when they were both in high school and locals talked about them as potential future Huskers (I think you may have to be a member to read about the recruiting, and I am not sure how long they keep it up).  It was not all entirely pleasant stuff.

I am not saying that on the 2015-2016 roster that Thurman is the only player that is capable of being Rostampour tough.  Devin Patterson certainly added toughness when he was brought onto the team, and he probably has his own brand of scary toughness.  Jake White brought it when he came to the program.  The general perception though is that Thurman was taken under Rostampour’s wing and referred to as a sponge, and wanted to learn absolutely everything that he possibly could.  As a Mav fan, I so hope that Thurman learned that toughness and hard work from Rostampour (and it certainly seems that he has).  When Thurman throws out tweets like “I don’t plan to be off anymore spring breaks if you get my drift,” I think he gets it.  It is refreshing to see a young guy that wants to learn and can learn from the older tough minded guys like Rostampour.  Per the Book of Basketball, the greatest book of all time, many younger players could not handle someone like Michael Jordan’s frame of mind and it just ruined a lot of guys.  Many of them had to go, but the ones that stayed with the Bulls were the ones who realized they needed to work their freaking asses off to play with Jordan.

My favorite Thurman memory in his young career is his game against Nevada.  There was a pretty big crowd given that it was Nevada, who has some prestige, and Omaha Benson’s Tyron Criswell played for the team, and it was Thurman’s first start at home and first home game since beating Marquette and giving Nebraska a show.  Jake White was still out with an injury, and no one knew what was going to happen to Thurman’s playing time once White got back, so I feel it was the perfect situation for Thurman to go off.  He played with a special bounce in his legs, he made shots that had fans see some things that they were not expecting to see, he basically owned that game.  I was thinking to myself…so we are going to have this kid for give or take 120ish more games?  Even as great as he was that day, he went 4 of 8 from the line, and that seemed to be more of what he focused on.  He tweeted after the game that he needed to work on his free throws.  He did not come out and say “I had 18 in a win, screw all y’all…I’m awesome.”

I think that toughness in general, for the most part, is a personality trait from people telling you that cannot do it for a number of years.  Look at Alex Gordon, in the environment of Lincoln his entire life, he was told how amazing he was as a Lincoln Southeast athlete and Husker baseball player.  Even as a player in the Royals farm system, George Brett and fans talked about how Gordon could turn out to be one of the greatest third basemen of all time.  When he got to the MLB, it was not working out, it took a few years for him to learn that he was not God’s Gift.  This is what I’ve heard from people in the know, but he didn’t want to take in hitting advice from older players and that his way of doing things always worked, so why add in anything else?  After a while of being a below average hitter, and all the fans finally turning on him telling him that he sucked constantly, he finally said he was tired of getting out all the time.  He was sent to Omaha to learn to be an outfielder, which at first seemed like his soul was taken from Shang Tsung at the end of Mortal Kombat.  Many players in Gordon’s situation would have just asked to have been traded, they would have gone to a team that was worse than the Royals, which would have been incredibly shitty at the time, and they would have lasted a few more years before becoming a permanent triple A third basemen.  Instead, he realized what he had to do to kick some ass, worked on everything that he could to be an outstanding outfielder and is regarded as one of the best outfielders in the big league today.  It was not until Gordon had a few years of failure that he had to learn to be a winner.

The same in a way goes for someone like LeBron James.  You may not think it, but it’s pretty true.  His whole life he was told how amazing he was, no one was going up to LeBron in high school and telling he sucked at basketball and winning that debate.  When he got to the NBA he lost and lost and lost at first and was told by many that Carmelo was actually a better team player and winner.  If you can find his first NBA game against the Sacramento Kings that the Cavs lost, they tried to interview him after the game…which might be the only time in the history of sports that an 18 year old was interviewed after his team lost…and you can tell that LeBron was not completely mentally tough yet.  You can tell he was completely nervous that the Cavs might have gone 0-82 that year and everyone would blame him.  Now LeBron loses a game and says “F it, we have to go work harder now.”  He had to listen to the LeBron versus Kobe debates and the LeBron versus Jordan debates forever, and still does.  Averaged 7 assists a game and was told that the Cavs were not winning because he was too selfish because he scored 31 a night.  LeBron thought he had it all finally figured out for a championship until the Boston Celtics pulled off a few trades to get Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to have three superstars that did not care about stats or what people had to say about them at that point in their careers.

Steph Curry was told his entire life that he was one of the best shooters that the world had seen, but when it came to being drafted many said he was too small and shooting was all he had.  Hell he averaged 6 assists and 2 steals a game as a rookie in the NBA and people still said he couldn’t pass or defend.  Brian Scalabrine told a story recently that as a new assistant he was telling the Warriors players that when he played with Kyle Korver that Korver would stay after practice and shoot 100 threes from everywhere behind the arch and would routinely hit 94 threes; and the Warriors players thought Scal was a loon, but then a week later after a practice he found Curry now doing the exact same thing as Korver.  Curry had the perfect shot, but now was being told that someone out there might be outworking him, so why not build on perfect?  Not having toughness would have been calling Scal an idiot and going home and watching Iron Man 2, Curry did the what I think is the exact opposite of that.

The greats, Jordan, Magic, and Bird all talk about people telling them they could not do it.  They attribute their failures as to the reasons they succeeded so well.  I think the only one that told Magic that he could not do it was Bird though.  Jordan apparently needed Pippen to slap him around a little bit and humble him, and Bird was just crazy.  Bird was the ultimate, he got off on people telling he could not do it and loved working at proving them wrong.  Read Larry Bird’s “Drive”, seriously, the man is crazy.

So you take Thurman’s love of basketball and athletic ability, throw in a spice of “this guy is lazy” and a mix of “he wouldn’t get these numbers at Creighton or Nebraska”, but you add in a few cups of Rostampour’s Screw Them Let’s Go Show Them Wrong attitude and you have yourself a recipe for something incredibly special.  Am I saying that you should scream at Thurman and tell him that he sucks in the middle of games?  I’m not sure, but probably not, I like craft beer too much to make great decisions…But maybe you should appreciate his hard work other than just his dunking ability.




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