You watch Lamar Hurd for one segment on Fox Sports Northwest’s college basketball studio show, and you can see that he has a future in tv. The former Oregon State University point guard boasts a winning combination of hoops knowledge, relatability, and freshness.
Because I was so impressed with Lamar’s tv debut, I decided to get in touch with him to ask some questions. Lucky for me, he was down. I’m happy to report that Lamar is exactly as pleasant to work with as he would appear to be from television. After the jump we talk about his time at Oregon State, playing overseas, watching Will Conroy come of age, and much much more.
You are not ready for this. It is sprawling and rich. All thanks to the generosity of Mr. Hurd with his time.
My questions are in bold with Lamar’s answers underneath. Enjoy!
How did you end up at Oregon State coming from Houston? Did you consider any other schools?
I ended up at Oregon State because when Jay John was at Arizona during my senior year of high school, he went to Houston to watch their (UofA’s) star recruit Ndudi Ebi play against my team. In that game, I played pretty good…had a triple double and my team won. Jay John stored my name in his file, and as soon as he got the Oregon State job, I was still unsigned so he came after me.
I decided to take the visit to Corvallis and it was actually my first time ever being west of Texas. But as soon as I got to Oregon I loved it. I didn’t mind the rain or anything because I had just come from the Houston humidity, and I think anyone who’s experienced that would take the Oregon rain over that any day. I loved the OSU campus, atmosphere, teammates, coaches, community, etc. It just felt like my new home.
I had the option to go to about 20 different schools, only about 4 that I really considered: Arkansas, Houston, Baylor, and Northwestern (which is where Craig Robinson was an assistant). I had the option to go to Texas, but never even considered it because they just wanted an insurance pg for TJ Ford.
I always thought Jay John was a solid coach who could never quite get it rolling at OSU. What was it like to play for him? What kept you guys from taking that step from solid Pac-10 team to NCAA tourney team?
Playing for Jay John was an experience that made me as mentally tough as I am today. He is a great, great guy, and I appreciated him as a coach. However, he and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye on things, which is fairly normal in a lot of coach/player relationships. After my freshman year, he and I really struggled at times to get on the same page with some things, and I take the blame for all of it because I feel that ultimately I could’ve controlled everything. But like I said, experiences I went through with him have me where I am today, mentally.
It’s very simple why we weren’t able to get over that hump and why we didn’t win any conference road games my junior year: we just didn’t all like each other. That’s why we would always fall apart on the road, and each of us knew it. It was always funny reading the papers and hearing everyone who thought they knew what was wrong with us when we all knew the real reason. Had we been as cohesive a unit my junior year as we were my sophomore year, I’m as positive as can be that we would have been an NCAA tournament team.
Your comments on OSU’s chemistry problems are intriguing. I’ve never heard that about those teams before but looking back it makes sense. When you say “we just didn’t all like each other” does that mean the players and the coaches weren’t on the same page? Or that there were cliques among the players? Or both?
Man it was ridiculous…we were almost like a group of high school kids. There were little cliques here and there, gossip…had we gotten MTV to do a series on us I guarantee we would’ve been the most-watched show on television. There was just a lot of childish behavior that caused some division. All it takes is 1 or 2 guys on any team to become a cancer to the whole team, and we had that type of situation. And it’s unfortunate because we had a lot of talent…kind of just gave the NCAA tournament away that year (my junior year).
I guess the good news from all of that is a lot of the same guys who had issues with one another back then are pretty cool now.
What’s the difference between a good chemistry team and a bad one? When things are good do the players hang out more outside of basketball related activities? When it’s bad are players expecting their teammates to fail, and maybe quietly rooting for it to confirm why they don’t like them in the first place?
Usually the good chemistry teams will spend more time together off the court, like we did at Oregon State my sophomore year. Time spent creates intimacy, and that closeness you develop off the court carries over to on the court. It makes you want to play harder and work harder for one another. It makes you go to class on a day where maybe you normally wouldn’t, because you don’t want to let your teammates down. The off-the-court chemistry just helps create that family atmosphere that every coach wishes his team can have.
And yes, you’re right on…when the chemistry is bad, teammates are hoping to see each other fail. Maybe it’s because they want to prove that they’re better than the other, and usually it’s because they want each other’s minutes.
It’s just a real childish way of going about competition but unfortunately it’s the norm in a lot places, including Oregon State my junior year. That’s one thing that’s been real encouraging for me, that Oregon State currently has regained that family atmosphere (per Calvin Haynes). I just know how powerful that can be when everyone’s on the same page with the same goal.
A scary moment in your career had to be the night Jay John was taken from Hec Ed on a stretcher with chest pains. What was that like as a player? How did the team react? Was John any different when he came back?
It was definitely a scary moment when that happened to Coach John. It made the game kind of pointless to us at that time (that, and the fact UW was beating us by like 30 something) and once the game was over we got word that he was ok. From that point though we would always have fun with it…sometimes when he’d start getting worked up in practice I’d tell him he better chill…a lot of times he’d just laugh it off. There were no recurrences after that so it was all good.
You broke onto the scene with a solid freshman year, had some growing pains in your soph and junior seasons. Just when you seemed poised to put it all together, your senior season was cut short by injury. How did you handle this frustration?
Yeah like I mentioned before, after my freshman season Coach John and I really had our differences on some things. Again, I take all the blame for it because ultimately I feel I could’ve controlled it. Even if I’m not in fault, I take the blame because I always believe there’s something I could’ve done better. People have come up to me and brought up the fact that after our freshman seasons, I was more highly-touted than Brandon Roy…the world knows that’s not the case anymore. I felt really good after my freshman year but then started to have some battles, most of them mentally. Not many people know this but I was very close to transferring from OSU after my junior season. One of the main reasons I stayed is because I had some teammates who said if I would’ve left, they would’ve also left, and I didn’t want that. Fortunately I was able to get off to a decent start my senior year, but that groin injury did it for me. When it happened, I wasn’t even frustrated…well ok, I was a little bit, but not as much as one would think. I like to think I’m pretty good at letting go of things I feel I have no control over. So when that injury happened, I knew I had two options: either to just sulk in it and wonder “why me” or to be a leader for my team from the bench, and resume as normal once I was healed. I chose option 2.
Still with your size, athleticism, and pure point game, you had pro prospects. Did you get any feelers from the NBA or NBDL? Did you get a Portsmouth invite? How does the process work as far as getting your name out as a somewhat under the radar college player trying to play at the next level?
Well the big problem with my injury was not only did it keep me out of the remainder of my college games, but it also had me out of action the first few months after the season, which is primetime for guys looking to get into Portsmouth, looking to get workouts, etc. So I wasn’t able to even try for that stuff. I did have several NBDL interests but I preferred to start making money. Therefore I just decided to go the overseas route. Looking back at it, I probably should’ve gone the NBDL route (and then gone overseas if I wanted) because my game’s more suited for the U.S. style than it is for the European style.
The process of getting your name out works basically one of two ways: either you’re bigtime and the scouts and teams already know you and invite you places, or you have to go to some combines/camps types of things and have a good showing to get your name out. And actually there’s a 3rd way…have a good agent that can get your foot in doors you couldn’t get in by yourself. I was in that middle ground…a lot of scouts and NBA teams knew of me after my freshman year, but due to the following three years it probably would’ve been really hard for me to get an invite even if I were healthy finishing my senior year (unless I was able to explode that year).
I saw you played a little in Germany. How did you get involved with that? What was the scene in the league over there in terms of intensity among the players and local interest?
My agent got me into the German 1st division. It’s a tough, tough league to get into but fortunately for me the coach of my team (Paderborn) really liked me and signed me to a 2-week tryout period. Due to an injury of the team’s normal point guard, I had the chance to go in and start right away. In my first game, I was ok, with like 6pts, about 3rebs & 3assts. But then I knew because of how tough that league was, if I didn’t step it up I’d lose my job…literally! So the next game I had 14pts, 5assts, 5rebs, and then the game after that I had 13pts & 17 rebs…they scratched the tryout period and signed me for the entire season after that. Like I mentioned, the league was really tough, consisting of many ex-NBA guys or guys who were borderline NBA. There were several other PAC-10 guys in that league….Jason Gardner (Ariz), Tommy Smith (ASU), Dijon Thompson (UCLA), Casey Jacobson (Stanford) and several others.
One thing that was funny was when we played Jason Gardner’s team he didn’t like his teammates, so before the game he told me all of their plays and against who to attack on offense. I like Jason.
The games there are WILD. The fans think everything’s a soccer game…they bring drums and trumpets to the basketball games and blow the trumpets while you shoot free throws. And then they’re always chanting something…always. You can never understand it but you just roll with it. It’s crazy but by the 2nd or 3rd game I was used to it.
The knock on Euro players when they come to the NBA is that they’re soft. What was your experience observing the conditioning over there? Is weight training taken seriously? Also, what did playing in Europe add to your game?
Ha! No. My teammates lifted weights maybe once a….month. And generally speaking, Euro players are a bit softer than U.S. players. But also generally speaking, Euro players are much more skilled that U.S. players. The reason for that is they work on every skill (post, guard, wing) for every player, just so they have that foundation for each position. Also, they practice twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, with the morning practice being one where they work solely on their skills. Playing over there really helped me with shooting the ball. You have to be able to shoot to succeed there at a high level…I hit more jump shots there than I did in my entire career at Oregon State, where I was known as someone who couldn’t and didn’t shoot (part of which is due to some of the issues I was having with Coach John). When I came back home the summer after being there it was really tough for guys to guard me on pick and rolls because now I was shooting off it rather than just driving.
I read that you had your eye on tv work during your college days. Do you have plans to continue a pro career or are you focusing on tv?
I’ve always wanted to be a basketball analyst on tv like I currently am with FSN. I’m very blessed to have that opportunity, and I certainly hope it continues. I no longer have pro aspirations simply because I fell in love….no, no, not with a girl. With kids!
I am currently the Basketball Director at The Hoop in Beaverton, OR, and part of what I do there is coach kids as young as 2nd grade all the way to high school. But the extra special ones for me are the ones that play on my specific team, Hoop Hurd. I have a 4th grade team, 5th grade team, and 6th grade team, and I cannot even put into words how much they mean to me. Just about anytime I start talking to someone about them I get teary-eyed. It’s crazy because it’s never something I expected. But ever since my first practice in December of 2007 with what was my only team at the time (my 5th graders), I knew that I would have a hard time ever walking away from them.
Just to watch them grow as people and players, and just to know they’re living the exact same life through basketball that I was living, and to know that their parents are going through the same things my parents were going through when I was their age (just wanting the best for them, wanting to send them to the right schools, wanting to make sure they make good grades, etc) keeps me there with them and diminishes my former NBA aspirations. Hopefully my work with FSN can continue to coordinate with my work at The Hoop…I’d hate to have to ever make a decision between the two so hopefully it never gets to that point.
Your work with The Hoop sounds like a blast and very rewarding! Do the kids play in a sort of pre-AAU league, or a city league or what? Is there a tryout procedure or do you kind of select area players that are performing well elsewhere? Is there a website for this?
Yeah, my work at The Hoop is unlike anything I’ve done before. The kids are the best…all they wanna do is play and have fun. And we have a lot of fun. Not only do we work on basketball skills, we also work on the little intangibles like how to interview after the game, and how to walk like Kobe Bryant does (with that little limp as though you’re hurt but not really…the kids love it). It’s the funniest thing to watch them do this stuff. Spending time with them really puts things in perspective for you…teaches you how not to have bad days.
They all play under our roof, The Hoop, in our various leagues, clinics, and tournaments. Sometimes they’ll play in tournaments around the Portland metro area, but most of their time is spent in our facility. Kids tryout to play on our Hoop Teams, which are really growing, and they can simply register for our clinic. My main focus since arriving at The Hoop last year has been bringing in good quality people who are coaches to work with the kids. Recently I hired my former college teammate, David Lucas to work with the kids, and he’s been great with them. You won’t find a much better player/person combination than him. Our website is www.thehoop.com.
What preparation have you done for your tv work?
The only preparation I ever did was flying to Seattle one afternoon to rehearse with Kevin Calabro and Angie Mentink…Kevin and I called the 1st half of an old UW vs OSU game and Angie and I did a mock run through a College Hoops Northwest show. We went for a total of maybe a little over an hour…that’s it. Outside of that I had never done anything like it. So I use that as my excuse for all and any errors I’ve made so far on the show.
Have you had any contact with GP as a fellow Oregon State point guard? Was Gary involved at all with the program while you were there? He works on NBA Gametime Live now. Have you sought any tv advice from him?
I have never spoken to GP nor have I seen him in person. I’m not sure why, but he wasn’t very involved in our program while I was there. However, his younger brother (Brandon) is hilarious! He’s one of my all-time people I ever met at Oregon State. He finished his eligibility in the season prior to my freshman year. Despite no GP appearances, the other big-time guys were around at times – A.C. Green, Brent Barry, Steve Johnson, Charlie Sitton – all those guys, but GP was nowhere to be found.
Kobe was actually on that show with GP recently saying that Brandon Payton was the first guy to get a pair of his new shoes. He sounds like a fun guy. What’s your best Brandon Payton story?
Haha this one’s gonna be easy, and I just laugh thinking about it (but like most jokes, it may not be as funny because you don’t know Brandon…but for everyone who knows him, they’ll get it). So we had a recruit visit OSU in 2002 named Kyle Jeffers. Now Kyle’s from Santa Rosa, CA, and Brandon’s from the Bay Area…like E-40, Too Short, etc Bay Area. So there’s a bit of difference in cultures. We were driving Kyle around (Brandon driving, me in the passenger seat, a couple of teammates in the back including Kyle) trying to find somewhere for Kyle to eat. We pulled up near a restaurant…can’t remember exactly which one, and Brandon asked Kyle “Do you want to eat here?” Brandon was probably expecting a “Yeah that’s cool” or a “Fa sho” or something along those lines, but Kyle responded by saying… “For sure.” It set Brandon off! He was outraged…he couldn’t believe that Kyle said the words “For sure.” Keep in mind the difference of cultural backgrounds. So from that moment on, everytime Brandon would see Kyle, he’d seriously be disgusted and say things like “I can’t believe this ******* said ‘for sure’ in the back of my ride.” Like I said, if you know him, you’ll get it. But yeah I love BP…he’s funny all the time.
I believe your freshman year was Jay John’s first season and Lorenzo Romar’s. During your four years UW went from Pac-10 bottom feeder to NCAA #1 seed. What was it like watching that program gain confidence and grow from your perspective at Oregon State? How do opposing players view Lorenzo Romar?
Well I’m still waiting for Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Will Conroy and the others to call me up and at least take me out to lunch because it was against us that UW finally got rolling in 2004 when they beat us in overtime at Gill. But you know what, even before they won that game and started rolling, everyone knew it was a matter of time before they started to figure things out. They were just individually too talented to never win. I’m not sure anyone ever expected them to be a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but hey, their swag was up. You’ve probably heard me reference UW’s old swagger on College Hoops Northwest a time or two because that’s what made them special. Every time they stepped on the court they thought they were going to win, and if you as the opposing team thought otherwise, they thought something was wrong with you. That’s just the mindset they had.
100% of the PAC-10 players I’ve ever spoken to about Lorenzo Romar love him. He’s a player’s coach…I say that because he allows his players the freedom to make plays and either win games or lose them. You can really tell that he’s played the game before just by how he allows things to flow at times, whereas you may see another coach who doesn’t understand the feelings of the players on the court tense up or go into some type of panic. In terms of smoothness, he’s the Barack Obama of college coaches. You just enjoy talking to the guy. Had I not gone to Oregon State I would’ve wanted to play for him.
You also played four years against Will Conroy, who is a huge favorite on our site. What did you observe to be the biggest changes in his game over your four years? I recall when he started he was really raw (in a bad way), then by his senior year he became really raw (in a good way).
Will was probably my favorite of UW’s players when I played…don’t get me wrong, all the guys were cool, but I liked him especially. He and I would always talk a bit before games started, and even when they started to take off and get really good, he never changed at all…at least not towards me. I think he did the best job of all of them of finding that balance between the cockiness they carried and still being humble. As a player all the guys loved playing with him because of how unselfish he was. The biggest changes he made was just settling into that role of distributor first, scorer second, and you’d see him start to take over games at times during his senior year, like a senior pg is supposed to. He always had the total package, he just became smarter as time went on and he really established himself as one of the leaders of the program.
Oregon State is coming off a winless Pac-10 season with a new coach. Have you had a chance to speak with Craig Robinson? How do you feel about his hiring? The view from up here is that Robinson is a very promising coach who in time could return Oregon State to its traditional place near the top of the Pac-10.
Yeah I’ve spoken to Craig Robinson many times…and I’m talking about before he was ever hired as the Oregon State head coach. Craig recruited me in 2001-2002 when I was a senior in high school while he was at Northwestern. I almost went there, and one of the main reasons was because of him. He has a certain lure to him and he’s able to recruit, which is evident by some of the players he’s already been able to get signed to Oregon State. I was part of the 4-man hiring committee (along with A.C. Green, Associate A.D. Todd Stansbury, and A.D. Bob DeCarolis) that brought Craig to Oregon State. I told him us deciding to go with him should make up for me declining to play for him at Northwestern. He was cool with that trade off. I don’t doubt that he’ll do well because he approaches the situation with an “I must succeed” attitude. All this guy knows how to do is succeed…he doesn’t know anything else. And I’m hoping he doesn’t learn something else during his time at Oregon State! But you can already see the confidence he’s restored to the guys there, and though it’ll take some time, I don’t think it’ll take as long as he does. Recruiting is what drives college basketball, and he can recruit with the best of them. He’ll be able to go get players to buy into our program which I don’t think many other coaches could’ve done, and that’s what we needed. And though we’ve heard it so many times…let’s just be honest about it: it doesn’t hurt to have the President as your brother-in-law. I’ve heard several sports “experts” talk about how it doesn’t matter, but there’s one huge key those “experts” are forgetting: it’s not about what’s attractive to them, it’s all about what’s attractive to the kids. Kendrick Perkins of the Boston Celtics, a former AAU teammate of mine with the Houston Hoops once talked about how the main thing he liked at one of the colleges he visited was the video game systems in the locker room. And you’re trying to tell me having the President on your side isn’t a cool feature?
Past interview: Seattle PI columnist Jim Moore