Jan. 11, 2007, 12:54AM
UH's Thorpe tackles another tall task
By MICHAEL MURPHY
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
The Houston Cougars are practicing, and Jahmar Thorpe is leaning on Marcus Cousin, the two centers jockeying for position under the basket. Thorpe, a full head shorter than Cousin, a 6-11 transfer from Seton Hall who will be eligible next season, is doing whatever he can to gain an advantage.
Thorpe snatches a rebound and dashes downcourt. Cousin is as athletic as big men get, but he can't keep up with Thorpe, and the 6-6 (maybe) senior knows it.
Thorpe sprints down the sideline before slicing toward the basket, catching an alley-oop pass from Oliver Lafayette and throwing down a violent two-handed dunk that leaves the rim shaking.
Dunkmaster Flex strikes again.
But after his concussive throwdown, the only flexing involves Thorpe's hands. Thorpe winces as he shakes his heavily taped wrists, hoping to alleviate the pain shooting up his arms. For athletes, there's hurt and then there's injured, but right now Thorpe is both — his left wrist has a broken bone and his right is badly sprained.
Tough start to C-USA play
But with No. 20 Memphis (11-3) visiting Hofheinz Pavilion for tonight's game against the struggling Cougars (5-7) in the Conference USA opener, Thorpe will attempt to shake off the pain — literally, at times — and play.
It's called soldiering along, and it's a perfect way to describe Thorpe, the son of a no-nonsense career Marine, Joseph Thorpe.
"Yeah," said Thorpe with a laugh, "he doesn't ever want to hear any excuses.
"I've been getting treatment every day. I'm just trying to fight through it and do whatever I can. About the only way it's really affected me is that it holds me back from one-handed dunks. That's about it. I try to stick to two-handed dunks. It's not a big thing."
Which pretty much describes Thorpe when he plays the post.
At 6-6, Thorpe is usually craning his neck skyward to get a good look at his opponent, which certainly was the case last week at Kentucky, when Thorpe banged bodies with 6-11, 260-pound Randolph Morris, a future NBA draft pick. Thorpe held Morris to just five field goals, one reason the Cougars were able to make a game of it before falling 77-70.
For Thorpe it was just another day at the office, and it won't be much different tonight against Memphis, which features a monstrous frontcourt rotation of Joey Dorsey (6-9, 260), Robert Dozier (6-9, 215), Kareem Cooper (6-11, 290), Pierre Niles (6-9, 285) and Hashim Bailey (6-10, 290).
"Physically, he's undersized, but he plays a lot bigger than he actually is," said point guard Lanny Smith, Thorpe's best friend, who is sitting out the season as a medical redshirt. "He's able to use his quickness and agility to get past most of the big guys he's facing.
"But sometimes we just sit there (on the bench) and shake our heads. Like when we were at Kentucky, he was down there battling Randolph Morris. Man, we all felt for him in that game. He was getting pounded, but Jahmar battled him the whole time. You feel for him, but Jahmar's a tough guy."
That's the first word out of coach Tom Penders' mouth when he is describing Thorpe — tough. And it was the key word when Thorpe, first at Morristown (N.J.) High and later at Western Oklahoma State College, was described as a "Tom Penders-type player."
"I can't say enough about him. He never quits; he never seems to get discouraged," Penders said. "He's battling against bigger guys all the time, and I have nothing but admiration and respect for him.
"He does so much for us defensively, not just guarding the post but helping other guys out. And he's a very important part of our offense."
Banging away inside
But Thorpe, who is averaging 8.3 points and 6.4 rebounds in 25 minutes per game, knows he's not on the floor for his offense, despite his sparkling 59.2 percent shooting. With Memphis in town, it's all hands on deck for a workhorse defensive effort, even if those hands are painfully injured.
"It's a lot of wear and tear, so you have to be tough," Thorpe said. "It's a man's game down there in the post, but I'm just trying to do whatever I can to help my team win. Yeah, I'd rather be out there on the wing, but this is the situation I'm in, and I'm making the best of it."