MEQUON, Wis. — Rashad McCoy blew past his man and sliced hard into the lane, attracting help defenders as he approached the rim.
Moving at top speed, the Team Nebraska Express point guard whipped a behind-the-back pass to his long-limbed, hard-cutting blur of a teammate.
Tre'Shawn Thurman, the centerpiece of this summer's TNE 17-and-under traveling basketball team and the key to Omaha Central's hopes for a five-peat, was ready. As defenders turned to watch, then scattered, the 6-foot-7, 205-pounder snatched the hard pass with his large hands, rose and delivered a powerful dunk.
That ferocious jam took place last weekend at the highly regarded Under Armour Summer Jam Presented by NY2LA Sports near Milwaukee. On Thursday, Thurman and his teammates began play at another tournament — their third in three weeks — in Kansas City. Three weeks ago, the tour stop was Nashville, Tenn.
Thurman's dunk in Mequon was a snapshot of what has been a strong, steady summer for the senior-to-be. Unfortunately, at that moment, only one college scout was watching. And that low mid-major assistant was looking down at his smartphone. Such is life on the summer basketball circuit, where high school players try to earn scholarships and college coaches try to unearth gems.
“I don't worry about it. I just want to get better all summer long,” the 17-year-old Thurman said. “Yes, I want to get looked at, but I also want to win games with my teammates. That's what's really important.”
For five-star players like gifted and uncommitted Milwaukee forward Kevon Looney, these summer evaluation period tournaments serve as ego-boosting affirmation. During one of Looney's games in Mequon, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and assistants from Florida, Duke and many other upper-echelon programs watched, seemingly hoping he'd notice them more than the other way around. Kentucky coach John Calipari was here too, checking up on his prize recruit, 7-1 Karl Towns of New Jersey.
But for prospects like Thurman, these tournaments serve as no-guarantee auditions. The players are at the mercy of the coaches' viewing whims. Despite his size, shooting ability, penchant for winning (he's a three-time state champion) and love for the game, Thurman arrived in Mequon with one NCAA Division I offer — from Utah State. He picked up another Monday morning, from Fairfield University, and Team Nebraska Express program co-director Scott Hammer thinks more will come soon.
“It's hard not to look up there (in the stands, at the college coaches),” Thurman said. “But all I can do is play basketball and keep a level head. You never know what will happen.”
As of Friday night, Thurman was awaiting possible offers from Florida International, North Dakota, South Dakota State and Missouri-Kansas City. Pacific University also expressed interest. Danny Manning, the coach at Tulsa, is reportedly attending this weekend's event in Kansas City and wants to take a look at Thurman.
Nebraska and Creighton, at this point, do not appear to have strong interest, though longtime Bluejays assistant Darian DeVries watched most of Thurman's best game in Mequon last Saturday morning. Hammer said he thinks the University of Nebraska at Omaha will eventually offer Thurman.
“It's a humbling experience, knowing people are watching you, looking at you as a possible player,” Thurman said, adding he'll likely wait out the process because he wants to carefully analyze his options.
“I know there are a lot of great players out there. I get butterflies, always, but once we tip off, we're just playing the game of basketball. I see this as an opportunity. Let's go out there and win.”
Hammer said Thurman has not yet qualified academically, but that could happen before Central's season begins. Hammer said given Thurman's core grade-point average, he's just a point shy on the ACT, and plans to take the test again this fall.
In terms of body type and skill, Thurman certainly seems qualified to play NCAA Division I ball. There were dozens of players 6-7 or taller at the Mequon event. But while almost all of them felt most comfortable in the post or on the block, Thurman's skill set was unique.
Three decades ago, a tall, lean NBA player named Paul Pressey inspired the term “point forward” because of his ability to play on the perimeter. Last weekend, Thurman displayed unusual versatility. Sometimes he brought the ball up. Other times he attacked the rim off the dribble. But mostly he caught and shot, launching smooth, unblockable, high-release-point jumpers from the corners, elbows and top of the key. His game was smooth and subtle, and aside from the occasional rim-rattling dunk, very understated.
“Tre'Shawn's skills and potential are right up there with the best we've had in the program,” said Hammer, whose 2012 17-and-under team featured Louisville signee Akoy Agau, Thurman's Central teammate.
“I've seen Tre'Shawn grow so much, and his skill level is better than ever. The sky's the limit for him, but he's still got a lot of work to do in terms of skill development and strength and conditioning. He's got to get mentally tougher. If he stays focused and shows his character through his work ethic, he'll have a great senior year, go to college and get that degree. He'll be pretty much set.”
Thurman's best game in Mequon came against a strong Texas Select team, which led Team Nebraska Express by double digits late in the second half. That's when Thurman took over, going on a scoring binge in addition to making a key steal. Nebraska lost 72-71, but Thurman finished with 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting, including 5 for 11 from 3-point range. He scored in a variety of ways, from short pull-up jumpers to putbacks. He also had six rebounds, set numerous screens and was a more-than-willing passer.
“It's a team game,” he said. “I can't go out there and be a ball hog. That's not me.”
After the loss, he made it a point to console his teammates.
“Right now, I feel like I'm developing as a leader,” he said after that game. “Sometimes I may get down, but I can't let everyone else get down.”
Observers who have watched Thurman this summer are surprised more and bigger offers haven't come. After all, 6-7 athletes with such accurate, soft jump shots are uncommon. But other prep basketball aficionados suggest Thurman must get physically stronger, and most of all, he must showcase a better “motor” and ramp up his intensity throughout entire games.
In terms of perception, perhaps his smooth style hurts him.
“I have things I need to work on,” Thurman said. “Probably my court vision and my left-handed dribbling … a lot of things. LeBron (James) can get to the rim at will. I want to be that kind of player. I'm getting stronger; I'm lifting three times a week. I feel like the sky's the limit, but I can always improve, and I want to improve.”
Thurman has received letters from BCS schools such as Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Oregon, but he calls those “just a step” toward his ultimate goal of landing a full-ride offer from a big-time program.
“I'm almost there,” he said. “I'm real close.”
How bad does he want a scholarship to play basketball in college?
“On a scale of 1 to 10, a million,” he said. “To be honest, I just get this joy whenever I have a basketball in my hands.”