Final Four Brings Out School Pride in Maynor, Mohammed

While Thunder fans were busy preparing for Sunday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, a couple of Thunder players were in the locker room before the game, hoopin’ and hollerin’ over their alma maters earning trips to the Final Four; one for the first time ever, the other for the first time since he left.

Thunder guard Eric Maynor has been beaming all week over the surprise success of Virginia Commonwealth University. The Rams’ upset of Kansas sent them to the Final Four for the first time in school history, a history that includes Maynor as their all-time leader in points and assists.

"I'm excited for the guys and for the program. They're doing big things. These are some of the same guys who were there when I was there and they're working hard and deserve it," Maynor said. "They're hot right now and I hope they keep working and stay hot."

VCU takes on Butler in Saturday's game one of the National Semifinals in Houston.

Maynor didn’t play in the Final Four at VCU, but six of his Thunder teammates were part of the Big Dance’s finale weekend: Cole Aldrich (Kansas), Nick Collison (Kansas), Daequan Cook (Ohio State), Royal Ivey (Texas), Russell Westbrook (UCLA) and Nazr Mohammed (Kentucky).

Mohammed made the Final Four in all three of his seasons at Kentucky. They have not been back since he left, so he’ll be eagerly awaiting the outcome Saturday as the Wildcats battle Connecticut in the other National Semifinal.

“It's unbelievable. Give credit to coach Cal (Calipari) and his staff with such a young team," Mohammed said. "I'm excited. I hope they can play well and beat UConn so I can get down there and catch the game."

Mohammed and Maynor both admit, for them, a VCU-Kentucky final for the national championship would be the ultimate Thunder showdown. "He (Maynor) is excited for his guys. He's pumped. I'm excited for my guys, too. It would be nice if we could take care of business and meet in the final game and go against each other," Mohammed said.

There is a former member of the Thunder Basketball family who is right in the thick of Final Four hoopla. Kevin Ollie, a member of the 2009-10 Thunder team, retired from the NBA and joined his alma mater Connecticut as an assistant coach. A veteran leader during his season with the Thunder, Ollie was characterized in a New York Times story this week as a “quiet voice of reassurance for this young Huskies team.” The 13-year NBA veteran-turned coach is especially noted for his efforts as a mentor to prepare the players for the rigors of playing for Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun.

“You come in as a freshman, you’re going to get screamed at, you’re going to get yelled at, but it’s all out of love,” Ollie told the Times. “It’s all about getting you tougher because situations in life are going to come when you’re going to have to fall back on what you believe in and your core convictions. That’s all he’s doing, he’s putting a demand on your potential. And he pushes his coaching staff as hard as he pushes the players.

“Stay humble, believe in yourself, work every day like it’s your last day and always play like you’re trying out for the team,” Ollie told players.