Before Nevada’s season began, Tre’Shawn Thurman listed three items he wanted his team to be known for.
“Electricity, bloody mouth and floor burns,” he said, pausing between each item for added emphasis.
With the Wolf Pack 8-0 – tied for the best start in its Division I era – and ranked sixth in the nation, Nevada has lived up to those ideals so far, and Thurman, a transfer playing his one and only season at Nevada, is a big reason for that gritty attitude.
“He’s really been the underlying key to us right now because we’re putting him on the best frontcourt player to defend,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said. “He’s not taking any bad 3-point shots. It’s with his feet set. He’s a really good passer. He’s one of those guys at 6-6, 6-7, 6-8 who can do a lot of different things and has versatility to play with his back to the basket and face up at the 3-point line.”
Thurman’s numbers aren't mind-boggling. In fact, he put up better stats during his last two seasons at Omaha before making the move to Reno. But the reason Thurman transferred to get one season of eligibility at Nevada was so he could win, not to put up big stats, which he has before.
“That goes all the way back to high school,” said Thurman, who played at Omaha Central before staying local to begin his college career. “I played on a really good high school team that did special things. We had a lot of great guys. I learned early on you have to sacrifice to win. Every one of those guys on my high school team could have been the best player on a Division I team. I learned early if you sacrifice and guys are cool with their roles, you can do special things. I’ve adopted that since I’ve been here.”
Thurman has earned a starting role with Nevada, doing so at power forward. He’s averaging 9.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game while shooting 48.1 percent from the field and adding the 3-pointer to his game. He's knocked down threes at a 34.8 percent clip at Nevada after hitting just 27.4 percent at Omaha. And Thurman ranks fourth on the team in minutes played behind the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline, a sign of how much Musselman trusts him.
Caroline, who said Thurman is “like my son,” compared the 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward to Golden State Warriors All-Star Draymond Green, a do-it-all player who has been a key piece to three NBA championship teams.
“I didn’t model myself after anybody growing up,” Thurman said. “I just wanted to be myself, but that’s a great person to be compared to. He can score, plays defense, he can shoot, he passes the ball, he does everything. It’s hard to do everything good.”
It is defense that is earning Thurman minutes at Nevada. He is first on the team in defensive rating and fourth in offensive rating, one of two Wolf Pack players in the top four in both metrics (preseason All-American Caleb Martin is the other). Thurman hasn’t always been a defensive ace, but he figured out early on that could be his path to regular minutes on a Wolf Pack team with more talent than available playing time.
“I think it’s improved since I’ve got here,” Thurman said of his defense. “I wasn’t always a great defender. I thought I was always OK defending. I’m way more confident in my defense first of all and second of all I want to be able to guard players. There are a lot of great players on this planet and I have to be able to guard one through five if I’m going to be able to do anything on any level to get any type of minutes.
“Guys are crazy good and I take it as a challenge on myself to play great defense on them. It’s hard to play defense. Not everybody can play defense. A lot of people like to shoot, a lot of people like to score and do other things, but if you play great defense you’ll find somewhere to play.”
Thurman’s offense also has been strong, his scoring total peaking at 22 points in a win over UMass. He’s hit double-figures in four games and scored five or fewer in three others, Thurman willingly takes a backseat offensively if somebody else gets hot. His unselfishness, especially as a senior who wants to play for money next season, has been noted by Musselman throughout this season.
“The big thing with Tre is he’s all about winning,” Musselman said. “You’re not around players very often whether you start them, he doesn’t care how many shots he takes, he just wants to win. I think it’s just the makeup, a transfer who put up good numbers at Omaha and now he’s just trying to figure out how to win and be a part of something special. I think it’s rare because he’s a senior, it’s his last year, sometimes those guys think, ‘It’s my last go-round, how do I put up numbers?’”
Thurman got his numbers at Omaha. What he didn’t get much of was postseason play. The Mavericks were 48-45 in his three seasons, playing in the CBI once, a one-and-done experience. That’s why he transferred to Nevada, where he knew he’d have to sacrifice his game but will almost certainly get to play in the NCAA Tournament. Thurman also wanted to push himself as a player to see what level he could achieve.
“There’s always more; that’s the way I look at it,” Thurman said. “There’s always more. A lot of guys on this team have been on schools where they average 20 a night, but there’s always more. I want to win on the highest level. That year sitting out just enhanced my game and got me better. If I want to play at the next level, whatever level that may be, I have to get better. I think that was the biggest thing.”
Musselman said when Nevada did an offseason tour of Costa Rica prior to last season – the year in which Thurman was redshirting – he never knew what Thurman would do on the court. He was breaking plays and taking bad shots, but a year of harping from the coaches and a willingness to change has made Thurman a better player. And as Nevada hunts for its first Final Four berth ever, he’s also an indispensable one who brings the qualities he wants to see in the rest of his team.
“Heart. Competitiveness. Fierce energy,” Thurman said. “I think I fight, I think I play hard. I think the guys just enjoy that I play as hard as they do. Jordan Caroline and the twins they were here already, so I was just kind of sitting in the background, but I want to fight just as hard as they do and want to get just as far as they have.”
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.