Most kids of his era grew up idolizing Michael Jordan or LeBron James.
Not Mike Rostampour.
The UNO power forward prefers Dennis Rodman and Chris “Birdman” Andersen, sometimes revered and sometimes reviled role players.
“Those two are my favorite guys,” Rostampour said. “They’re so underrated. No one understands what they do.”
Rostampour and the Mavericks understand that what they do is a key element, one that was lacking in UNO’s otherwise surprisingly successful second season in Division I.
Rostampour, 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, is a high-energy bruiser who sat out last season as a walk-on transfer from Division II St. Cloud State. Awarded a scholarship in the offseason, the junior is expected to help the Mavs on the boards after they finished 344th of 347 Division I teams in rebounding margin last season at minus-7.6 per game.
“Hopefully I’m the guy who can bring us over the top,” Rostampour said. “We were last (in the Summit League) in rebounding last year, and that killed me sitting on the bench.”
UNO coach Derrin Hansen brings up another NBA player, an old-timer with a little more well-rounded game but a reputation for toughness, when thinking of Rostampour.
“Maurice Lucas used to bully people around so that Bill Walton could get things done,” Hansen said. “It’s not that Mike can’t score baskets — he can. But the rebounding, the screening, winning battles in the paint, that’s what he brings. If there’s a loose ball that’s going out of bounds, he’ll dive for it anyway just to let everyone know he’s around.”
With his crew cut, his chiseled frame and his more or less concealed tattoos, Rostampour looks the part. And he’s also won the respect of his teammates, though he’s recently been required to wear elbow pads at practice to cut down on the number of cuts he’s been delivering.
“He’s a fiery dude,” said center John Karhoff, a skilled big man who figures to benefit from Rostampour’s presence as Walton did with Lucas. “When you have a guy who plays with that much intensity and that much fire ... it’s hard not to get excited about that.”
Rostampour said he’s always played this way. He probably didn’t have a choice.
He posted the third-best single-season rebound total at Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights, Minn. — impressive considering the top two totals are held by former Big Ten bruisers Trevor Mbakwe (Minnesota) and Mike Bruesewitz (Wisconsin). Mbakwe is four years older and is someone Rostampour has played with and against, and Bruesewitz is a former teammate who is one year older.
“Those guys made me better,” Rostampour said. “When you’re getting hit by those dudes, it makes you so mad. So you just try to hit them back, do whatever you can to get a rebound.”
In high school, Rostampour had drawn recruiting interest from North Dakota State, Wisconsin-Milwaukee and others while on his way to the fifth best single-season point total in school history. But interest waned after he came down with mononucleosis and lost weight. Division I schools backed off.
So he went to Grayson (Texas) College in pursuit of another Division I opportunity. He averaged 6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds for a 20-11 junior-college team, but then the school dropped the sport. With Santa Clara interested, he said, he looked at attending a junior college in California before deciding to play at St. Cloud State.
He started every game for the Huskies, averaging 7.8 points and 4.7 rebounds for a 20-9 team that reached the Division II tournament. He even shot 52 percent (13 of 25) from 3-point range.
“I didn’t really like the politics when it came to junior college, so I said forget Division I, I’m going to D-II and see what that’s all about,” Rostampour said. “But it wasn’t what I wanted.”
So he took a shot at Division I — the UNO and St. Cloud State staffs are still close from their days as competitors in the old North Central Conference — and wound up walking on with the Mavs.
Last year, “he was your scout team all-star kind of guy,” Karhoff said. “He really made you work in practice. He was the same player he is now as far as the energy he brought.
“When you see someone bringing it like that in practice every day, it’s tough not to bring the intensity yourself.”
Hansen knew fairly early last season that he’d want Rostampour on scholarship for 2013-14.
The coach offered one at a meeting with Rostampour after last season.
“It was real quick, short and simple,” Rostampour said. “Then I went back home and there was a tear in my eye, a little emotion. But I’ve always expected positive things, so to be honest I didn’t expect anything but getting a scholarship here.”
Hansen said Rostampour is able to channel his energy and competitiveness into positive results.
“He wears it on his sleeve more than anybody else we have had in years,” Hansen said. “And yet he can show his outward emotion and harness it. And he is all about the team.”
Not that Rostampour needs any extra competitive fuel, but he is looking forward to playing likely Summit League favorite North Dakota State — a team that had backed off recruiting him in high school.
In addition to visiting UNO when looking to transfer, he also visited South Dakota State, the Summit’s representative in the past two NCAA tournaments.
“They didn’t even offer me a walk-on spot, to be honest,” Rostampour said. “That was very humorous.”
When he said it, he wasn’t smiling.