Michael Woods, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Thurman still showing off an impressive range

There is an intellectual side to the 40-year-old Thurman few people see. While his nights are spent teaching basketball on the radio, his mornings are spent teaching something entirely different.

Scotty Thurman has been a household name in Arkansas for more than two decades. 

He was a three-time all-SEC performer during the Razorbacks' golden years, winning a national championship in 1994 and finishing national runner-up in 1995. Had he not foregone his senior season, Thurman likely would have challenged the Razorbacks' all-time scoring record. 

Thurman was announced as Arkansas' new radio color analyst earlier this year. He was hired by the Razorbacks in 2010 to work with athletes on career development, as well as serve as a sort of liaison between former and current players.

But there is an intellectual side to the 40-year-old Thurman few people see. While his nights are spent teaching basketball on the radio, his mornings are spent teaching something entirely different.

The Analyst

Scotty Thurman is a teacher. 

That is what a radio analyst is supposed to be as he describes what he sees unfolding in front of him for those who cannot. 

Few know more about Razorbacks basketball than Thurman. The man who hit the most famous shot in Arkansas history is able to offer rare insight as the Razorbacks' radio color commentator. He played for Mike Anderson 20 years ago and has worked for the program the last five seasons as director of student-athlete development. 

Thurman appears to be a natural in his new role after replacing longtime color man Rick Schaeffer. But like with all teaching some learning has been involved. The process of honing his new craft the last few months has been like being a student again. 

"It's been a huge adjustment for me, especially now with the radio picking up in terms of time management," Thurman said. "I might on the treadmill reading up on game notes. I may be riding in the car with Coach (Anderson) on the way to a venue and not really taking any time for granted.

"I try to approach it like a test." 

IMG, the media rights holder for Razorbacks radio broadcasts, sent Thurman clips to listen to during the preseason. He also studied some of his favorite TV analysts like Hubey Brown and Kenny Smith, and spoke to friends in the industry. 

Thurman reached out to Schaeffer and former play-by-play announcer Mike Nail for tips in the off-season. Nail and Schaeffer sat on radio row during Thurman's playing days in the 1990s, so he had a good relationship with both. 

"They told me to start strong and finish strong," Thurman said, "and deliver the emotion the crowd is giving us, and give it to the fan base."

He also sat in on the radio booth at football games, studying how Chuck Barrett - his basketball partner - and Keith Jackson worked together on their broadcasts. He and Barrett had some practice runs during the preseason. 

"I look at them as coaches now," he said of past and present Arkansas announcers. "I'm trying to be proactive so I can be good at this thing. I don't want this to be something short-term."

The Razorbacks have never had an announcer like Thurman, whose only experience behind the microphone came when he filled in for a game during John Pelphrey's final season. Not only is he a well-known, well-spoken former player, his day job working with the current players allows him behind-the-scenes access to things like community service and academic achievements. 

"I want to highlight the things they do and the good accomplishments that go unnoticed," he said. 

It also allows him access to game-planning for the Razorbacks' opponents. He sits in on activities like film study. 

"I have an opportunity to know what the other team is trying to do and their strong suits and relay to our fans what we're trying to do without giving away the game plan," Thurman said. 

Perfecting his role in the media has been a challenge for Thurman, but not the only one he has embraced this year. One of the most rounded players to ever come through Arkansas is still showing off his versatility. 

The Teacher

Thurman's days don't always start with basketball. Instead the former Arkansas star is teaching something entirely different than basketball on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. 

Thurman teaches African-Americans in Sport, or AAST 3023 in the university's course catalog. The class explores "historical, sociological and political issues and debate surrounding African-Americans in sport," and "contemporary issues facing African-American athletes and sports figures," according to the official class description. 

Much like with his role as Arkansas' color analyst, Thurman was approached about the job as a teacher by university leaders who thought he would be a good fit. 

"I think he and his wife (a former Arkansas cheerleader) are the living embodiment of what the student-athlete experience should be," said Calvin White, director of the university's African-American studies program. 

"Here's a guy who, not only did he leave (school) early and things didn't work out, but he has an undergrad degree and a master's degree, and he's seriously thinking about going on to get a doctorate and start in our doctorate program. I thought he would be a great fit and is qualified to teach the course as well." 

Though intrigued, Thurman said he was apprehensive about teaching on the college level. He had taught before while working at Episcopal Collegiate high school in Little Rock, but knew it would be much different than at a major public university.

Thurman observed professors in their classroom and said he reached out to friends in the academic realm. It wasn't until White asked him to read William Rhoden's <em>Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Black Athlete</em> that Thurman decided to jump both feet in. 

"It's opened up my eyes just reading the book," Thurman said. "It almost felt like I had a duty since there were so many people who paved the way for me to come back here and have an opportunity to work at the U of A." 

Thurman built his own curriculum for the course, which requires students to read the same book. The class consists of mostly seniors and juniors, some of which are current athletes. 

Some knew Thurman from his role working with the basketball team, but many in the class were unaware of his past in athletics. Many were born after he began his playing career with the Razorbacks in 1992. 

Thurman related his first day teaching to one of those games at Barnhill or Bud Walton Arena. 

"I've always been nervous before everything I've ever done, whether it was competition, public speaking or a meeting," Thurman said. "But once I get there the nerves kind of go away, especially if I'm prepared. The key for me is to stay prepared.

"I want to be a good professor, I want to be a good director of student-athlete development and I want to be a good color analyst. I don't want to do them just to do them. If I can't do them at a certain level, I don't want to do it." 

Thurman doesn't lecture his students for 50 minutes three times a week. His philosophy is to introduce subjects and then interact through discussion with the class. 

"I think it's fun for them that way," Thurman said. "It's definitely fun for me that way."

Thurman is the first former Arkansas athlete to come back and teach the class. White said that's because he's one of the only ones who have ever been qualified to do so. 

"I think a lot of times Scotty downplays his accomplishments," White said. "I think he might be one of the only people in the country who has a national championship ring as a player, has a bachelor's degree (Philander Smith College) and a master's degree (University of Arkansas). That is unusual.

"I've heard a lot of good things about him since he's been teaching the class. He's done a really good job of keeping the students' feet to the fire. We had a very good conversation about some of the standards he would have to hold students to. We spoke about him being an ex-student-athlete and about the athletic department still being his primary employer, that there would be an extra level of scrutiny that would not be fair, but it is what it is. He has gone above and beyond." 

The class won't meet during the spring semester, allowing Thurman to travel freely with the basketball team. White said he would like to see Thurman continue to teach the course again in 2015, but noted Thurman would like to expand his teaching portfolio. 

"He doesn't want to do just the African-Americans in sports class," White said. "...If we're sitting in a faculty meeting, he wants to be just another faculty member in there." 

The Mentor

Spliced between basketball and teaching was one of the proudest moments of Thurman's life earlier this year. 

His son, Scotty Thurman Jr., earned an athletic scholarship on the Razorbacks' football team after walking on to the program in 2012. Thurman has spent the last five seasons mentoring players and has watched walk-ons receive scholarships before, but this one was extra special.

"That was like music to my ears, not just because of the scholarship but because of the work he had to put in to earn it and me to see that," Thurman said. "It was shocking - not that I didn't expect him to maybe earn it, but you really never know, especially when you have no control over the situation."

Always the teacher, Thurman was able to relay some tips he learned as a scholarship player to his son as a walk-on, though he humbly defers all the credit to his son's work ethic catching the attention of the coaches.

"I told him sometimes when you think you're off, you're not really off," Thurman said. "A guy on scholarship might be off, while you've got to go get 30 minutes of cardio." 

Thurman Jr. spends most of his time preparing as a scout team player in practice. He did make his first appearance in a game earlier this season, though, playing in the win over Nicholls. 

"We're extremely proud of him and the fact he's stayed with it," Thurman said. "I don't think many kids his age with this microwave mentality would have stuck with it.

"He's had it a lot more difficult than most people think. A lot of people probably just hear my name and think he's had it handed to him, but it's not. I know that. 

"He's in a situation trying to tell people who he is and I want that for him."

White believes Thurman wants something similar for himself - to move away from being identified as a one-time basketball star and toward being as diversified off the court as he was on it. 

"He's a very well-rounded guy," White said. "I've known him for three years and I don't think I've ever had a conversation with Scotty about basketball. He always wants to remind people that was 20 years ago. He's a guy who is trying to morph into something different and understand there is life after basketball. There's something more there that makes him tick." 


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