No one on this year’s Three Rivers women’s basketball team has a big ego. They don’t ever ask about their stats. They just want to win.
That attitude is why freshman Hannah Thurmon’s demeanor never changed from the beginning of the season to now. If you saw her on the court, in practice or on the bench, you’d never be able to tell whether she’s struggling or has the hot hand.
“She is one of the most level kids — as far as not riding that emotional roller coaster on offense and defense — that I’ve ever had play for me,” Three Rivers coach Jeff Walk said. “She just goes out there and just plays, you know. If she’s having a bad game, you’re not going to know it.”
Offensively, it was the former for a good portion of the season. She’s had 10 games in which she shot 30 percent or lower from the floor.
She never let it show. Not once did she hang her head, complain or show signs of even knowing about her offensive woes. Then again, it’s easier when you’re on a top-25 team that hasn’t lost in over three months.
“I feel like my teammates, we all provide in some sort of way and they really help out. Even if anyone is on their low side, there’s always someone who’s going to step up,” Thurmon said.
Although it wasn’t obvious in her body language, she knew, and she made sure to put in extra time to shake her shooting slump.
“I used to come in here and, oh my gosh, I would shoot so many shots every day. And I was making them, but still, my percentage was not up,” Thurmon said. “Then, I slowed down, you know. After the second semester came around, coming from that low and progressing as I want and building more confidence, it just helped.”
Some of her teammates knew it, too. Katelyn South, Thurmon’s teammate, roommate and friend, noticed the struggles early in the season.
“I know in the beginning, her confidence was down really bad. I mean, it’s not that she was down in the dumps really, but her confidence wasn’t like it normally is,” South said. “I don’t know, I just think her game, especially against Crowder — our last game against Crowder — I think it just boosted her confidence.
“I’ve known she’s had it in her the whole time, but I think it just took her showing herself she could be great to actually believe in herself.”
The two made a point to start putting in extra shooting work after practice. Thurmon will ask South if she wants to go put up more shots in the gym and vice versa, something they didn’t do quite as often at the beginning of the season.
“We talk about it all the time, how we want to be great, how she wants to be great,” South said. “She’s got a bunch of colleges looking at her. She wants to go play for Arkansas State, and I don’t know, I think she’s just been a little more determined to be better.”
Now, when the team has needed it most, she’s answered the call and then some. For a team with five players averaging double figures in scoring, it’s hard to point to an X factor.
But during the Region XVI Tournament, Thurmon was exactly that.
“I just really have a lot more confidence,” Thurmon said. “I just feel a lot better about myself. Now, knowing I can do that, I feel like I can do whatever I set my mind to.”
En route to winning the Lady Raiders’ first Region XVI tournament title since 2004, Thurmon averaged 17.5 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in two games while shooting 53 percent (8 of 15) from 3-point range. Those numbers included a season-high 20 points in the championship against Moberly Area and a season-high seven blocks against Crowder in the semifinals.
“What would we have done without her?” Walk said. “... I think she’s kind of got it figured out that she might be able to play a little bit.”
Defensively, Thurmon has blocked at least three shots in each of her past six games. The defense has been there all season, though. The 6-foot, 1-inch forward averages 2.1 blocks per game with a season total of 62, placing her 11th in the nation. She alters many more shots on a nightly basis. If an opponent gets past the initial defender in Three Rivers’ zone defense, Thurmon is always roaming the paint ready to contest when the time comes.
“They’re scared to drive in the paint. Moberly got lucky, they were hitting all those 3’s (in the region tournament championship) because if they would’ve drove it in then she would’ve blocked it,” South said. “Against Crowder, she had seven blocks, I think. That’s crazy.
“She’s a lot of help, and I feel like if you get beat off the wing, it’s kind of a relief to know Hannah is back there because she’s got your back all the time.”
Her build doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a prototypical interior defender. She has the height at 6-1, but she has a slim build. Despite that, she doesn’t get pushed around by bigger players inside. She stands her ground, stays vertical and rarely gives up good lucks around the basket.
“All through high school, that was the case,” Thurmon said. “I was still in the post and I was always the skinny one. And there’s always bigger girls out there, but I just know in my mind they’re not stronger than me and I just have to play my hardest and do whatever I can to guard that.”
The timing of her shot contests is excellent. That’s where being an All-State volleyball player at Dexter could’ve helped. As a middle hitter, Thurmon had to get used to attacking the ball at the apex of her jump.
“She played middle, and when you play middle in volleyball, you’ve gotta have quickness to get off the floor because you cannot run in the middle when you’re hitting. So her shot-blocking ability is learned from her volleyball playing days at Dexter,” Walk said.
Thurmon is a matchup problem for defenses, too. Put a shorter defender on her and she can post up and score with her back to the basket. Guard her with size and there’s a good chance she’s faster than the opposing player and can either launch a quick shot after moving without the ball or try to drive to the basket.
For a team that was already ranked No. 22 in the final NJCAA Division I poll of the regular season and has 19 straight wins, the fact that another player has emerged as a difference maker is a thought that could be a nightmare for opposing teams going forward.
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic