The Wolves centre is on a mission. Plus Boateng’s holding pattern, Crecco’s exit, Newcastle’s challenge and FIBA’s loss.

Sometimes, the fight to beat the odds is engrained deep within the DNA. Robert Thurman would wave his mother farewell when she went off to work but, in truth, he did not know for certain when she would return.

A colonel in the US Marines, her role took her away on tours of duty, the objective of her missions only vaguely comprehensible to the young son she left behind.

“It was a bit scary,” the Worcester Wolves centre recounts. “You didn’t know when she’d be back or if she’d be back. But when I was a young child, I didn’t know any different. And my Dad was really good.”

His father was once a footballing tight end, then a powerlifting of the super-sized variety. “He was very competitive as an athlete but not so much in basketball. My whole family has that competitive spirit. My Mom wasn’t into sport but in the Marine Corp you’re chasing jobs, you’re on missions and you’re ordered to hold yourself to a higher standard than most people.”

Now it is Thurman who is on an adventure of his own, one which he could never have envisaged as a teen playing hoops as a distraction, not as a means to a career. He was tall, sure, but it was beats not baskets that consumed his ambitions.

By night, and sometimes day, the California native would dream up riffs and tunes, beatboxing on occasion, thinking of how to crack the top 40 rather than the starting five.

“I don’t do it as much as I used to,” he admits. “I had a group of friends who were into it so we’d get together every once in a while. I did think about doing something musical. It would have been an interesting thing to do. I had that interest but maybe not the connections and know-how.”

Basketball was an unlikely Plan B. His high school team won big, he claimed MVPs yet his collegiate bow came at Norwich University, a military school where athletics was not of the highest renown.

Thurman shone. By hook and crook, California came calling with the longest of shots, that he could attempt to walk onto the Bears team without the safety net of a scholarship.

The opportunity knocked and was duly taken. And in three years on campus, he went from a towel waver to bench filler to a consistent contributor.

Westbrook: dropping by

Westbrook: dropping by Cal

Even now, it seems unlikely. “I kind of have taken it one step at a time. Because I’m living in the moment, I haven’t looked back yet and gone: ‘wow, that was pretty unlikely to happen.’ I sometimes think about it but not on a very large level.”

It gave him a taste for more, when NBA performers like Russell Westbrook and James Harden would drop by the gym in the summer, providing a close-up view of the world beyond.

The Golden State Warriors would visit too. Open court, open to all. The stuff of many kid’s dreams but not enough for Thurman to lose his cool. “When you’re in that zone, being around people doing something that you do…me personally, I never went ‘wow, that’s James Harden.’ I didn’t want to be the fan and swooning.”

His triumph in adversity resonated with the Cal hordes. His own Big Head would be put on display at games. He got a nickname and a chant: the Thurminator was born.

“I’m not sure how it started, I’m pretty sure I didn’t invent it,” he claims. “When I used to play Xbox as a kid, it was my tag. But then at Cal, people started calling me it and I thought it was funny. I’d forgotten all about it. Then it caught on, and I’m getting it now in Worcester when they introduce me. It’s a good nickname so I don’t mind.”

The BBL represents his second foreign campaign. Last season in Denmark, he parlayed his CV from college into a shot at the pros. Going from a reserve to an import, with all the expectations laid on, has been the next task to tick off.

In Worcester, he has sometimes been the fulcrum, occasionally the castaway, in averaging 17.5 points and 10.4 rebounds with the third-highest PER in the BBL.

The Wolves coach Paul James acknowledges his unique skillset is a blessing and a curse, others required to adjust to get the most from their big.

Still very much in the title hunt, and with one extra import likely to arrive, Thurman might become an ever more formidable asset.

“As a team,” he says, “we’re starting to mould and understand who’s supposed to be doing what and understand each other before on the court. It’s like any time at the start of the season where you’ve got to figure people out, like where they want the ball who needs help where. We’re starting to figure that.”

He is learning as he goes, soaking up the culture on and off the court. Christmas – by dint of Worcester’s fixture changes – will be spent in Yorkshire, not at home. Playing will remain the priority for as long as this ride holds out. Coaching, perhaps, will then be the mission beyond.

“That’s what I want to be when basketball playing is done,” he states. “I think I understand aspects of the game that aren’t very well-taught.

“I was coached by a Hall of Famer in Mike Montgomery who taught me a lot that most coaches don’t know. So I think I can use the things I’ve learnt from him and go even further with this.”

London in holding pattern

London Lions can give themselves one giant-sized Christmas gift with the likelihood Eric Boateng will be joining for the New Year.

The Great Britain centre was due to land one month ago. Then, on the Copper Box court, he had an unfortunate mis-step. “The day before he was supposed to sign, he broke his toe running into the bottom of the basket,” coach Vince Macaulay confirmed. “It’s just bad luck.”

Boateng has been ordered to keep the weight off his foot but it is expected he will be cleared within two weeks. The Lions, who have given up interest in Paul Guede, will now go with the roster they have, with Rod Brown and Zaire Taylor starting to gel in the backcourt.

In their second season in the capital, there will be a little pressure on their forthcoming arrival to deliver silverware – and the adjoining impact – with chief backers GLL wanting a return on their investment.

Eagles flying out of sight

Since Newcastle Eagles lost to Worcester Wolves on the opening night of the BBL season, the league champions have gone on a 15-game winning streak, including last weekend’s victory over Sheffield that set up a BBL Cup final against Glasgow on January 11.

Their average margin of victory? 12.6 points per game, a huge number in this league. Which is why coach Fab Flournoy and assistant Dave Forrester are concerned primarily about complacency – and boredom – with no-one seemingly stepping up to give the Eagles a run for their money.

That Newcastle have had such a fabulous time under Flournoy makes it even more of a snub that neither the New Yorker, or his team, got even a sniff of a mention at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year on Sunday when low-attendance champions in domestic cricket and swimming were acknowledged.

One could easily argue that Flournoy’s sustained success should have made him a runner for the Coach of the Year that went, bafflingly, to a captain from overseas.

United? Not.

Kirk Crecco is the latest departee from Surrey United amid their struggles near the foot of the BBL.

MVP understands the American guard, averaging 15 points per game, has been freed to go after making his final appearance in last Saturday’s win over Leeds.

Sutherland, no more

The minimal British influence in the corridors of basketball power will shrink further this week with FIBA’s head of women’s basketball Joanna Sutherland vacating the role amid the shake-up that has seen FIBA Europe become an arm of the mothership rather than an autonomous satellite.

The respected Sutherland, a former Scotland international, is thought to have presented her plan for female hoops – including a rebranded World Cup which will be held in Spain, out voted Israel, in 2018 – but then take her leave. Previously with London 2012 and in senior roles in athletics, her decision to stand down will pose questions of FIBA’s vision going forward.

Outside shots
Connor Murtagh keeping up his magic at the Giants

Luol Deng retains Bulls attachments

Barking Abbey a British success story

BBL Insider appears every Tuesday on MVP

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