The Times West Virginian

December 10, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN: Thoroughman a basketball throwback

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — In this business, what you are reading now is known as a column, something that normally is written by someone who is either extremely clever or extremely old, seldom both. If you are clever you are given the freedom to perform as a columnist without wisdom; if you are old you are assumed to have wisdom even far after your ability to be clever has left you.

Those who know me know into which category I fit, which is why I feel I have the wisdom to offer an appreciation today.

In the world in which we live, our athletics has for whatever reason taken far too many wrong turns. The athlete has become, for the most part, an advertising billboard, wearing uniforms whose intent is far more to draw the viewer into a sporting goods store to purchase a certain product than to glorify the school or its tradition.

He is covered from head to toe in tattoos that once only a sailor or biker would wear and he has more ways to shake hands than his coach has plays in his playbook.

The only thing more original than his touchdown or slam dunk celebration is the excuse he can think up when he messes up the most basic fundamental in whichever game it is he is playing.

This is not helped by television one bit, which prefers to spend hours extolling John Wall doing “The Dougie” rather than showing a replay of a perfectly executed pick or an offensive tackle simply keeping a defender away from the quarterback.

This, perhaps, is a long and winding road to get to the fact that we want to offer our appreciation of Cam Thoroughman and the way he plays the game of basketball.

If nothing else, Thoroughman shows that there is still a place in the sports arena for a guy who shows up for work in coveralls and with a lunch bucket, a guy who doesn’t mind getting the dirt from the floor on his Nike shorts or the blood from his nose on his shirt.

He is the Sam Huff of the 21st century, a player who plays the game more the way Dr. Naismith invented than the way Dr. J re-invented it.

He is a pickup truck in a game being played by Ferraris, a beer and a shot at a champagne party.

If he isn’t Bob Huggins favorite player, then Huggins is fooling all of us.

You listen to the coach talking about his team after a game and there is this wrong and that wrong. The defense doesn’t do this and the offense can’t do that and then he gets to Cam Thoroughman.

“Cam knows how to play the game,” Huggins says.

That’s a relatively simple sentence coming from a relatively complex man.

Of course, Huggins being who he is and what he is doesn’t stop there, for he does know that Thoroughman does have one irritating facet to his game.

So, the sentence actually comes out this way:

“Cam knows how to play the game … and foul. He’s good at that.”

That is added, though, for effect and for a laugh and, yes, to remind Thoroughman that he would really be something if he could keep from bouncing opponents into the third row of the stands when blocking out for a rebound.

But, hey, no one’s perfect.

Thoroughman is far more Rocky than Apollo Creed.

He plays with his head and his heart, where others lift over their athletic and artistic gifts.

Don’t underestimate him. He can play. He’ll be glad to tell you how John Beilein recruited him here as a 2-guard and you know Beilein liked guys who could shoot. He can dribble and he can rebound, but when his knee went on him he had to remake himself and he came out a Bob Huggins player.

You don’t hear him complaining about his playing time, you don’t hear him whispering in the back rooms that he could do what so-and-so is doing and he can’t understand why he doesn’t get his chance.

He knows what he can do, what he can’t do and how to do what he can do.

“I just go in there and bring energy,” he said.

It’s overlooked, but he really is a nifty passer, as he showed against Robert Morris on two magnificent feeds of curls on a play that started back with Darris Nichols, who would wink with one eye or the other to let the passer know which way he was curling and then would get the feed.

This is something Thoroughman handles perfectly.

“I look for the touch pass,” he said. “I try to think one pass ahead.”

The problem is, he’ll never really lead the league in assists, but that’s not what his game is supposed to be.

More important, he leads the league bruises … those he gets and those he gives.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at