College basketball has the Big East, the Big Sky, the Big Ten, the Big Eight and, now, the Big Three. It's not a small conference but a small forward, Arkansas's Scotty Thurman, a pigeon-toed, sleepy-eyed 6'6" junior who has undoubtedly made more big three-point shots than anyone in America over the past two years.
"I stopped counting at 50," says teammate Alex Dillard. "He makes them in practice, he makes them against Duke, he makes them anyplace, anytime."
The one against Duke was a bomb with 51 seconds left that snapped a 70-70 tie and eventually gave the Razorbacks the national championship last season. Last weekend at the NCAA Midwest Regional in Kansas City, Mo., Thurman, 20, was at it again. In the semifinal victory over Memphis his three-pointer with 3:01 left in overtime broke an 85-85 tie and broke the Tigers' spirit. In the regional final against Virginia, Thurman hit the biggest shot of the game, a three-pointer from seven feet behind the arc with just 4:14 left that gave Arkansas what proved to be an insurmountable six-point lead. "Sometimes it's like the stage has already been set," Thurman says. "Then all I have to do is deliver."
The ability to do just that has made Thurman the Razorbacks' go-to guy in close games. Over the past two seasons Thurman has made eight three-pointers that tied the score or put Arkansas ahead in the final two minutes. He led the SEC in three-point accuracy this season (44.4%) and has made 14 of 28 shots from beyond the arc in the four NCAA tournament games. He often spends the first half feeling out opponents and getting teammates involved in the offense, but "the second half is mine," he says. "Since I was 11 years old, I always took the last shot."
In those days Thurman was honing his game on the playgrounds of Ruston, La., where he was schooled by his father, Levell, who played basketball for nearby Grumbling State from 1964 to '68. If Scotty didn't think he was getting enough shots in those games, he would go home and shoot alone in his backyard. "I got all the shots I wanted there," he says. "But then my brother made me stay and keep playing."
That was one of the valuable lessons Al Thurman, now 23, taught his little brother. The others have been more painful. Al, who has battled substance abuse and has had several brushes with the law, wasn't in Charlotte to see Scotty's crucial three-pointer against Duke last year because he was in the Union Parish Detention Center in Farmville, La., serving a five-year sentence on drug-related charges. And he won't be in Seattle for this year's Final Four because he's still in jail.
Though Scotty considers Al an inspiration, he doesn't want to repeat his older brother's mistakes. The brothers Thurman spoke the day before the game against Memphis. Scotty says they'll speak again before he leaves for Seattle. Big brother will do all the talking and offer his usual advice: Play hard, and if the game's on the line, take the big three.
Little brother will do his best to comply.