In a few months time, Terrance Ferguson will be donning a Thunder jersey as he and his teammates strut off the court at Chesapeake Energy Arena. When he got his first taste of what it's like to play in Loud City, he was just a high school sophomore.
The Tulsa-born Ferguson was 10 years old when the Thunder tipped off its inaugural game against the Milwaukee Bucks (Oct. 28, 2008) on that same floor. The following year, Ferguson and his family moved to Dallas, where he later played high school hoops for the Prime Prep Academy Spartans, who once traveled to Oklahoma City to play in the 'Peake years ago.
While representing his country, Ferguson and his teammates went undefeated (19-0 overall) for USA Basketball in FIBA competition, winning three gold medals together. Being named a McDonald’s All-American topped off his rising profile. The Adelaide 36ers of the National Basketball League (NBL) took notice.
Soon enough, his budding basketball talents took him overseas to not only fast track his hoop dreams Down Under, but also to pay back his family for the sacrifices they made.
When the chance to attain financial stability tipped the decision-making scale, Ferguson penned his sentiments for The Players’ Tribune just a little over a month after his 18th birthday: “They sacrificed for me, they’ve always looked out for me. There was no way I could make this life-changing decision without them.”
Rather than tethering his post-high school hopes to the conventional collegiate template ready with D-I promises, the 36ers were calling with a contract.
“They really liked how I played, and started talking about how they could develop me even further. That’s what really got my attention,” said Ferguson.
While being able to provide for his family, the teen sensation also relished the chance of growing up on and off the court while sidestepping the lure of college life.
“Overseas, you’re on your own, playing in a grown man’s league," Ferguson said. "You’re working out twice a day, just focusing on basketball.”
Displaying an unwavering commitment to the hoops-only life, Ferguson brought his mother to live with him and to help him navigate through anything that was not basketball.
“I didn’t have worries about cooking or cleaning. I just had to worry about basketball,” said Ferguson. “She made it that much easier for me.”
Despite Ferguson’s best laid plans, an adjustment period to the Aussie experience was simply unavoidable.
There were the alleged face-eating koalas known as “drop bears” that haunted Ferguson, triggering a Pavlovian response to look up at the towering Eucalyptus trees overhead during walks — even long after teammates revealed the hoax.
Being a young American import, Ferguson’s opponents in the NBL saw an oversized target on his back, ripe for punishment. After all, this was competition at the highest level in this part of the world. This fresh-faced upstart was an imminent threat to not only their egos, but also their livelihoods.
The no-calls and the in-game wrestling matches soon followed. A crash course in Adulting 101.
“From the very first game, guys just kept coming at me: shoving me, taking cheap shots, hip-checking me, every dirty tactic in the book,” Ferguson wrote in another essay for The Players' Tribune earlier this year.
Ferguson had to learn quick for his psychological survival. He knew the accelerated process was necessary to get where he ultimately wanted to be.
“It helps me to be mentally tough through the whole thing,” said Ferguson.
The physical play and the mental gymnastics doled out quickly stripped away any naiveté and pretensions inherently brought on by his age.
Yet, he anticipated all the slings and arrows aimed in his direction when he signed up.
Adelaide 36ers head coach Joey Wright steadied Ferguson through the raging waters of NBL basketball.
For instance, Wright wanted Ferguson to be comfortable right away by giving the rookie an essential carte blanche on offense. This move paid dividends in fortifying Ferguson’s psyche, and for his NBA goals.
“As for preparing myself for the NBA, I have to give coach Joey Wright and his staff all of the credit. Pretty much from the start, they have given me the green light on offense,” said Ferguson.
Under Wright’s tutelage, Ferguson blossomed in confidence and harnessed his physical powers for team gains.
Speaking to ABC News' Mark Addinall, "Terrance was really easy to coach … he was a coach's dream, obviously physically really gifted, really talented in his abilities," said Wright.
"He's just a great person on and off the court," Wright continued.
Entering the 2016-17 season, the Adelaide 36ers were projected to finish last in the standings.
However, the young gun helped the 36ers finish as regular season champions for the first time since 2000.
Instead of turning to dust in the heat of battle against older, bigger and more experienced hardwood gladiators, Ferguson emerged as a diamond, showing his competitive mettle. At the same time, his video game-like athleticism captivated basketball stakeholders everywhere, ratcheting up Ferguson’s draft stock.
Ferguson relied on his ability to adapt. In getting out of his comfort zone, he found comfort. Moreover, his work ethic and preparation fueled his confidence as he inched closer to his goal with every game, every early morning workout and every late night film session.
“I always had confidence in myself. Always had that mindset of playing in the NBA someday,” said Ferguson.
Despite his aw-shucks demeanor, a fierce year of Aussie pro hoops equipped Ferguson with a more refined perspective and a battle-hardened attitude.
“It was definitely a learning process for me, especially as a person moving to a different country,” said Ferguson. “I learned a lot. I’m more mature.”
By necessity, he developed into a quick study to prepare for the rigors of NBA basketball. However, there were still some things about playing in Australia that Ferguson has not grasped yet.
“I think the hardest part was probably driving on the opposite side of the road. You can't just get used to that,” said Ferguson. “But when you have no choice, you've got to learn quick.”
Pivoting from a stopgap year in the NBL of pushing through grueling two-a-days and in-game body checks, Ferguson’s dream became a reality on the night of June 23, 2017.
Hearing his named called by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver as the 21st overall selection by the Thunder in the 2017 NBA Draft was the sweet coda to a season-long apprenticeship of Australian pro hoops.
Eager to return to the court at Chesapeake Energy Arena more than three years after his first time there, Ferguson has a chance to follow up on the early success he had as a 15-year-old pro in the making.
Ferguson: “I just want to give thanks to the Thunder organization just for believing in me. It's been a long journey, many sacrifices, but I'm proud to be here. I'm back home. I'm thankful for my family for being by me every step of the way, and it's exciting. I'm ready to start my journey.”