By Nick Beaulieu, Editor-In-Chief
Tre’Shawn Thurman was trailing back on offense; The Omaha Central forward had been battling all day against some of the biggest and most physical opponents he, and the rest of the Eagles, had ever seen.
He got the ball, spotted up and knocked down a three. Thurman’s three against Oak Hill Academy came in what may have been the biggest stage Nebraska High School basketball has ever been on. The Eagles won the Heartland Hoops Classic against Oak Hill and Thurman, along with the rest of the Omaha Central basketball team, made their mark on the sport in Nebraska.
Two years and a state championship later, Thurman finds himself on another bright stage, this time as a freshman starter for the University of Nebraska at Omaha basketball team.
“It’s definitely fun, different,” Thurman said. “I played at Central, so the game was always fast but this is two times, three times, four times faster.”
Thurman, who had been highly recruited since his sophomore year of high school, was a big land for UNO, but the forward wasn’t envisioned as an immediate starter. Junior Jake White started the first game for the Mavs but when he suffered an ankle injury, it was the next man up for UNO and Thurman answered the call.
“We didn’t expect him to start but when injuries happen, opportunities arise and he’s really taken advantage of his opportunity,” UNO Head Coach Derrin Hansen said. “Being a true freshman, he’s got thrown into the fire more quickly than normal, but he’s done very well adapting.”
Thurman is averaging 9.8 points and five rebounds a game on 23 minutes. He’s also averaging 1.8 blocks per game, with five swats against Nevada and three against Kansas State.
“It’s hard to guard him because he’s long, he’s athletic [and] he can get past you if he wants to,” senior guard C.J. Carter said. “He can be all-conference probably closer to his junior, senior year.”
As an Omaha Benson graduate, Carter, a senior, knows the pressure of playing in front of your friends and family as well as representing your community. Carter feels Thurman has weathered it all well.
“You know when an Omaha kid comes to an Omaha school, there’s a lot of pressure with everyone wanting you to play,” Carter said. “You come here as a freshman, you shouldn’t be worrying about that right away, but he’s got the great opportunity to start right away and he’s using it well and playing great.”
That pressure is one of the very reasons Thurman chose to be a Mav, and one of the things he says confirms his decision.
“It’s more of a family sense,” Thurman said. “I’ve been playing here for five years now at a high level in Omaha, so I have a lot of friends and family and a lot of friends who feel like family to me, so when they come to see me play and I get calls or texts from them. I feel like it’s reassuring.
“I feel like I made the right decision to come here, and I want to play my heart out every night.”
Even though Thurman played at a high caliber with Central and during AAU basketball, there are certain things that are still tough to transition through. Teammate and senior Mike Rostampour sees the hunger inside of Thurman to learn and grow.
“Tre’Shawn is a guy who is very spongy ,” Rostampour said. “He will take in everything we say and he’ll use it on the court and he’ll use it off the court. He loves knowledge.”
As his partner in the paint, Rostampour and Thurman must communicate on an elite level. The pairing have cliqued well in this early part of the season.
“He’s a great teammate. He’s such a competitor,” Rostampour said. “He wants to get better. You can tell when he gets frustrated with himself if he’s not playing well.”
As far as grasping collegiate basketball and the process, he’s doing the right things and listening to coaches and older teammates.
“He does what you want most guys to do and that is he’s coachable,” Hansen said. “He’s ‘yes sir, no sir,’ he knows when he makes a mistake that he needs to go out and correct it next time he’s out and those are things Tre’Shawn has been very good with, and in today’s day in age, it’s very refreshing.”
Thurman said his biggest shock came after Omaha defeated Marquette. The magnitude of the achievement really sunk in when he got home and caught wind of the buzz in Omaha.
“It definitely was an eye opener at the beginning of the season to see I was playing D-1 and then to beat Marquette was huge for this organization,” Thurman said. “I didn’t realize how huge it was until really we got back.”
His performance against Nevada made another statement. Thurman scored 18 points on 6 of 9 from the field with five blocks. Thurman hasn’t showed the usual growing pains of a freshman hooper.
“I don’t think Tre’Shawn gets nervous,” Hansen said. “Maybe being a freshman he doesn’t understand, ‘the moment.’
“The moment hasn’t been too big for him and he hasn’t been too big for this place.”
Just like when he hit that big 3-pointer three years ago, Thurman showed just how special his talent is when he skied for a rebound on K-State against their towering big men.
“I’m not sure we’ve had a freshman around here who can do something like that,” Hansen said.
But Hansen knows that Omaha has found a gem in Thurman, and the freshman feels at home as a Maverick.
“We just think Tre’Shawn is a big part of our team right now and a big part of our future,” Hansen said. “And the best part is, I think he feels the same.”