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
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 Grambling 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.
COLOR PHOTO:DAVID E. KLUTHOThe deadeye Arkansas forward has made clutch three-pointers his specialty.[Scotty Thurman standing with his hands on his knees]