The Wise Men of Thunder U: Players like Desmond Mason, Kevin Ollie, Malik Rose helped mold OKC franchise

They might not still be playing for the Thunder, but a group of veterans helped establish the team's identity and lead the way for young stars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: June 9, 2012
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RYAN BOWEN

Arrival date: Sept. 28, 2009.

Departure date: Nov. 25, 2009.

How acquired: Signed as a free agent.

Thunder stats: 4.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.0 spg, 1 game.

Today: Video operations/player development coordinator for the Denver Nuggets

What impressed you about the roster then: Just how young the guys were and how hard they worked. It's been well-documented over these last few weeks how hard KD works on a day in and day out basis. But that was the one thing that I couldn't get over. Every day after training camp, no matter how hard practices were, he was out there leading the charge, going through more drills. He almost sort of guilted the other guys in. Everybody else is sitting there watching him go through the drills and then they'd jump in too. Before you know it, the whole team is out there doing drills. A lot of times guys will stay after and get shots up just to be seen. But he was really doing it to get better. And when you have a group of guys like that that actually wanted to get better every single day, and when that's led by your superstar, you can't help but do great things.

How did you try to impart wisdom onto the younger players: I just tried to come every day and work as hard as I could. I knew that's what they wanted me to do was just to come and compete every day in practice and just make KD go harder, make Jeff Green go harder. I think Coach Brooks liked me because he remembered me back in Denver when I was with the Nuggets. He just loved the way I used to run Carmelo (Anthony) up and down the court. That's kind of what he wanted me to do. Just to see me out there doing those things, I think helped make them aware of how to play the game. I never took anybody aside and talked to them in certain ways. But I just tried to lead by the way I played and came to practice every day and played.

What do you think when you see how far they've come in such a short time: It's so fun to watch and know that it's something you were a part of, even if it was for a short time. I think I was on the roster 16 games and only played one. But being able to go through a whole camp with them and get to know them a little bit and see how well they're playing it's just great. It's been a lot of fun but not surprising because of how hard they worked on their individual games on a day-to-day basis.

JOE SMITH

Arrival date: Aug. 13, 2008.

Departure date: March 1, 2009.

How acquired: Traded by Cleveland in a three-team deal that also brought Desmond Mason in exchange for Luke Ridnour and Adrian Griffin.

Thunder stats: 6.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 0.7 apg, 19.2 mpg, 36 games.

Today: Free agent. Finished his 15th NBA season in 2010-11 for the Los Angeles Lakers.

What impressed you about the roster then: We had Jeff Green. We had Kevin. It was Russell's first year. It was a great young nucleus that I felt that after a couple of years together could definitely be a threat in the NBA because of their talent and because of their work ethic. It was a young team but they had some young guys that really wanted to get better and put themselves in the gym almost 24 hours a day to work on their games. You could tell then that things were about to be good.

When did you know this franchise was on the right track: They were bringing all the right pieces in. They brought in Kevin, they brought in Russell, they were bringing in some veterans to kind of bring them along and help the coaches teach them the game. Early in the year, we lost P.J. Carlesimo and that's when Scott Brooks became the head coach. And from that point on, when he took over you could tell that it was a big attitude change on the floor and in that locker room.

How did you try to impart wisdom onto the younger players: When I was there, I had been through all types of situations. I had been on winning teams. I had been on losing teams and mediocre teams. That first year we were there we struggled pretty bad. But my thing was to not only be an example on the floor but also try and help the younger guys keep their heads into the game and stay focused on a night-to-night basis and not worry about the record at that moment but just work on getting better as players individually. The good thing about it was that we had a good group of young guys that listened and respected me enough to listen to my input. That made my job easy when I was there. The only tough thing about it was trying to get the wins on the board. But everybody kept playing hard no matter what the record looked like.

DESMOND MASON

Arrival date: Aug. 13, 2008.

Departure date: July 1, 2009.

How acquired: Traded by Milwaukee in a three-team deal that also brought Joe Smith in exchange for Luke Ridnour and Adrian Griffin.

Thunder stats: 7.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.2 apg, 27.3 mpg, 39 games.

Today: Oklahoma City businessman and artist.

When did you know this franchise was on the right track: I knew it was heading in the right direction after last season. When you saw the way the guys were playing last season, I think in one year Kevin really jumped from a maturity standpoint and being a leader on the team. I thought that set the tone because I knew his work ethic. And when you have your best player in the gym all the time, there early and leaving late, everybody else can be held accountable because he's putting in the work and putting in the time.

How did you try to impart wisdom onto the younger players: I just tried to use some of my experiences to pass along to those guys. One thing I really tried to do with the young guys when I played is talk to them about what life was going to be like after basketball, saving money, making good decisions. Playing basketball was easy. Most guys have been doing that their whole lives. But I just tried to pass along things that guys gave me that helped lead me in the right direction. I wasn't ever a bar or club type of guy. What I did was I always went out and had a good dinner in cities. I always tried to invite the young guys along and pay for dinner and really just sit down and hang with them and talk about our experiences and have a good time. So for me, it was trying to lead by example from that standpoint away from the court, trying to help guys put themselves in better positions by avoiding temptations.

What do you think when you see how far they've come in such a short time: I think it's a good thing for the young guys because they're getting a lot of experience in high-level games and the stress levels are high. But these guys are really holding their own. I watch then and they get down 10 points or maybe even 15 points and it doesn't really bother them that much because they've got a focus. And I think Scott is a big part of that. When you listen to his huddles, he doesn't seem nervous, he seems calm and positive all the time.


by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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