(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA -- The newest Lady Griz has never been to Montana. The closest she has been to the state was over her phone on a Sunday morning earlier this month when head coach Mike Petrino guided her around campus on a personal virtual tour.
Her recruitment is a product of the times.
“I walked her and her family around our facilities, and we sent her all sorts of information on Missoula and the university,” said Petrino. “That’s how you have to do it right now.”
But it was a more old-fashioned approach that sealed the deal for Hannah Thurmon, who played her first two years of college basketball at Three Rivers College in Poplar Bluff, Mo., not far from her hometown of Dexter. She accepted a scholarship offer this week.
“The thing that stood out most was that all the coaches reached out,” she said. “They all wanted that connection and relationship with me. I decided that if you fall in love with a place doing it that way, you’re going to love it even more in person.”
The versatile, six-foot-one wing player will be a junior for Montana next winter and be eligible to play immediately thanks to the work put in by not just Petrino but assistant coaches Jordan Sullivan, Nate Covill and Jace Henderson.
“It’s a huge credit to our entire staff. It was a group effort,” said Petrino. “We all had one-on-one conversations with her and we had multiple group FaceTime conversations with her.”
The final one will stick with Montana’s coaches for a while, given how high it ranks on the goosebump scale.
Thurmon asked for one more FaceTime conversation with the entire staff. She still had some lingering questions that needed to be addressed. Or so she claimed.
“We set it up for a Wednesday night. When they got on, the entire family was wearing Montana sweatshirts,” said Petrino.
“She said, ‘I don’t have any questions. I just wanted to tell you I’m coming to Montana.’ It was awesome. It was a fun way to hear some great news. We’re excited about her.”
Jeff Walk knows what Montana is getting. Thirty-two years ago he was in his first year as a basketball coach at Twin Rivers High in Broseley, not far from Poplar Bluff and Dexter in the southeast corner of Missouri.
A freshman on his first team: Matt Thurmon, who would go on to play at Culver-Stockton College, also in Missouri.
Walk coached his final game before retiring last winter, in late February. After coaching 20 years at Twin Rivers, he spent the last 12 at Three Rivers. On his final team: Matt’s daughter Hannah.
“So I started with her dad and finished with his daughter. That doesn’t happen very often,” he said.
“He could flat-out play, and she has a lot of his characteristics. Pass the ball, shoot the ball. She can’t dunk like he could, but other than that.
“Montana is getting a great kid. I know you know she can play, but off the court she is just awesome. I’ve retired, but if I was still there, I’d like to have her back another five or six years.”
Every college athlete has a story of what it took to get there. Every Division I athlete who took a less-direct route, like Thurmon and her stopover at Three Rivers, usually has one with more twists and turns.
She was being looked at by a handful of Division I programs as early as her sophomore year at Dexter High before a knee injury sent them fleeing. The interest vanished or was at least put on hold.
It was an injury that occurred in less than a second but weighed her down for more than year. All she could think about was what had been lost.
“My mindset was that everything I’d worked for was ruined. That’s probably why my junior year wasn’t as good as it could have been,” she said.
“Going to state was awesome, but I don’t think I reached my full potential. I was hesitant. My senior year I just went out and played. When you get over it and know you can do things again, it changes everything.”
She started all 63 games at Three Rivers the last two seasons for teams that went 53-10. When she was a freshman, the Raiders went 27-4 and reached the NJCAA national tournament.
She averaged 9.2 points and 6.7 rebounds as a freshman, 9.3 points and 6.5 rebounds last season while hitting 72 3-pointers on 40 percent shooting from the arc. It was exactly half as many triples as Montana (144) made last winter.
“We like her versatility on offense and defense and the fact that she’s a proven 3-point threat,” said Petrino.
“We love that she can play more than one position and guard more than one position and comes from a winning program. That’s what I really like.”
Thurmon, who intends to major in business, which was another talking point for Petrino, given the university’s strength in that academic area, was one of six players who averaged between 9.3 and 13.6 points for a Three Rivers team that went 26-6 last season and averaged nearly 90 points per game.
Could Thurmon have scored more? Yes. Did Thurmon want to score more? No, not as long as the team was winning 26 games and clicking and playing for a Region 16 championship at the end of the year.
It’s the type of balance -- you can stop one of us but good luck stopping all of us -- that has defined Montana over the years.
“We were one of the winningest teams to come through there, so it was cool to go there. It helped me get to the next level,” said Thurmon, who was named second-team All-Region 16 as a sophomore.
She was committed to another Division I team before that program went through a postseason coaching change. That put her back on the market, and interested Division I programs came calling in droves.
Montana kept making the cut, until the Lady Griz were the last team standing, and the Thurmon family answered the phone decked out in maroon.
“I really clicked with them, and that connection means everything,” Thurmon said. “I really appreciated how much they wanted me there.”
Montana’s roster is still “fluid,” as Petrino likes to describe it. There are still some things to firm up, but he’s got some returners, the incoming freshmen and now a player who will give the Lady Griz one more upperclassman.
“I love her story, that she went this route and was successful. She persevered and made an opportunity for herself,” said Petrino. “She made the most of her opportunity and that opened up doors for her.
“She had multiple Division I’s to choose from, and she picked us. That’s a huge credit to what we’re trying to do.”