Robert Thurman says it wasn’t scoring a career-high 11 points in an 85-69 win over UCLA that elevated his basketball self-esteem.
“The biggest thing that was a confidence builder was he put me in the game,” the junior center said.
More to the point, coach Mike Montgomery put Thurman in the game when it still mattered. The 6-foot-10, 270-pound walk-on had played just 70 minutes over 10 games prior to Saturday, and hadn’t even gotten into two of the previous four games.
But he was part of the plan against the Bruins.
“I was told beforehand I needed to be a factor in this game because obviously Josh Smith is a very large individual and I’m like the biggest guy on our team,” Thurman said. “So I knew I was going to have a role in the game.”
Montgomery confirmed the story.
“We played Robert because of Smith. Robert hadn’t played very much but it was the logical thing to do given that Robert’s the only person who carries much weight,” Montgomery said. “Robert got a chance and did a pretty good job.”
Thurman played 13 minutes, helped the Bears lean on Smith and made all five of his shots.
He also absorbed a direct hit by Smith, who is listed as 6-10 and described variously as weighing between 305 and 315 pounds.
“I didn’t even try to take contact and I went flying. That was definitely a charge,” Thurman said. “That’s never happened to me before — someone moved me like that — and went flying and they didn’t say anything.”
How big did Smith seem?
“I would say he’s 340,” Thurman said. “His legs are huge. His calves are like the size of honeydews.”
Thurman played extensively on Cal’s summer tour of Scandanavia, but the start of this season was derailed a bit by a hip flexor injury. More recently, he shared the flu bug that ran through the team.
“I haven’t had the best luck this year,” he said.
Thurman hopes the UCLA game will buy him more opportunity.
“(Montgomery) told the team when people get opportunities they need to act on it. He told me I acted on it,” Thurman said. “I’m sure he has the sense now I can play well.
“I’m not like Dwight Howard. But I can score when I get the ball.”
Thurman came to Cal two years ago after playing one season at Norwich University, a Division III program in Northfield, Vt. He received no Division I offers out of tiny Desert High in the Mojave Desert community of Edwards.
Then he grew three inches after high school and Thurman decided to transfer after his best friend, a Cal student, suggested, “Dude. it would be so cool if you could come and play here.”
It was definitely cool against the Bruins.
SOLOMON UPDATE: No word on whether sophomore forward Richard Solomon — who has missed four games with a stress reaction in his left foot — will be available to Thursday at Oregon State.
“Richard is still a question mark,” Montgomery said Monday. He said was no update Tuesday on the weekly Pac-12 coaches teleconference.
Montgomery said he wasn’t sure if Solomon would make the trip.
“If he can’t play it doesn’t make much sense to take him.”