Celebrating California Senior Robert ThurmanPosted by AMurawa on March 6th, 2013
The Thurmanator. A nickname borne from a combination of a fortunate last name and an anything-but-subtle playing style is just one of the reasons that Robert Thurman has become a beloved contributor to California’s run into contention for a Pac-12 regular season title. You see, Thurman’s path to becoming a fan favorite for a very good Pac-12 team has been long and circuitous. If you follow the conference, you probably know that Thurman is a former walk-on at Berkeley, but there are likely plenty of other facets to his story that you didn’t know.
The child of a military family, Thurman has moved around often in his time. He’s spent four years in Hawaii, among other places, but found his way to the high desert of California around Edwards Air Force base in time for high school. With plans to follow the military life of his family, Thurman devoted himself to an Air Force ROTC program in high school, that is, at least until some friends convinced the then-6’7” junior to give basketball a shot. It wasn’t long until Thurman found success and joy on the hardwood. After earning Player of the Year honors for a division of smaller schools in his senior season of high school (a season in which he helped lead his team to a CIF championship), the ever-growing Thurman decided he would follow the call of basketball rather than the Marines.
From there, following a brief stop at Antelope Valley Community College (in a valley that has no antelopes), Thurman followed a lead across country to a small Division III military school in Vermont to plays hoops. And, he met with pretty good success there, rapidly earning a starting job and even earning national Division III weekly honors following a 34-point effort. But Thurman was still dreaming big and, in the spring of 2009 he contacted Cal assistant coach John Montgomery about the possibility of transferring as a walk-on; the two sides soon agreed.
His first two seasons in Berkeley passed with little notice. One of those seasons was a transfer year during which he was ineligible for competition; the second was a season in which he contributed more as a warm body during practice than on the court in competition, earning just 28 total minutes. But following that season, Thurman was good enough in his offseason trip to Europe to earn a scholarship for his final two seasons. Although he started the year earning just spot minutes here and there, Thurman blew up on the first weekend of conference play, scoring 11 points in just 13 minutes in a big win over UCLA. His importance grew by leaps and bounds just weeks later when fellow frontcourt mate Richard Solomon was declared ineligible for the season. In the Golden Bears’ first game without him, Thurman went for 16 points and seven boards in 21 minutes of action against Washington – the point total there remains a career high while the rebounding number is just one shy of his career best.
Since that day, Thurman has played double figures minutes in 39 of 43 games, been highly effective especially on the offensive glass and in the defensive post, and earned something of a cult following among Bay Area basketball fans. It may be his former walk-on status, it may be his occasional thunderous dunks, it may be the unlikely countenance of a basketball player for a top-notch school, or some combination of those factors and more, but the Thurmanator has become a great story for a team on the verge of a great season.