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Sounds of Thunder: Terrance Ferguson VS The Face-Eating Koalas

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And you thought playing in Australia was easy.

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Believe it or not, this old man yours truly was once a wide-eyed 18-year-old. Like most youngsters that age, I was convinced that I was completely ready to take on the world.

That assumption lasted about 15 seconds.

After graduating High School, I decided to take a year or two away from classes in order to spread my wings and broaden my horizons.

Instead, what I got was a crash course in reality, not dissimilar to the one Terrance Ferguson —the Oklahoma City Thunder’s #21 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft— got last season when he opted to play pro ball in Australia rather than taking the usual top recruit’s one-and-done route in college.

When you are 18 the world looks ripe for the picking, so I can only imagine what it may have felt like being eighteen with talent oozing out of every pore.

I had a friend whose father had some pull at a steel manufacturing plant and, within a week of graduation, I had a job and felt like a king.

Conversely, Terrance Ferguson had major universities tossing girls in his windows, and international pro basketball teams offering what looked like a fortune, in hopes of coaxing his John Hancock on the bottom line.

If I felt like a king, Ferguson must have felt like a god.

What you don’t know at 18 is that when you enter the workplace, any workplace, you’re seen as a threat. You are younger, so you make less money and can offer more years. Oft times, your new “friends” just see you as a someone that will take their jobs one day and thus are fair game for any prank they can think of.

My new co-workers didn’t let me get to first break before nailing me.

The new guy at a steel company is basically a grunt, a gopher, or just an extra pair of hands. And the shop foreman had assigned me to help the band saw operator. The steel fabricator I worked for specialized in structural steel for commercial building and the band saw was the machine that cut the big I-beams to the proper length.

HK&S’s band saw was twice the size of the one pictured above —and if you can zoom and look more at a downward angle you would see a long set of heavy duty rollers on a rack a hundred feet long.

That day, the band saw operator was working with 14 X 14 stock that weighed over 130 lbs/ft. Each beam before being cut was 50-feet-long and weighed over three tons. That is why I had been assigned to help. Even with the help of an overhead crane, that is a lot of steel to handle.

The first beam was already on the rollers, so all I had to do was help the operator push it to the saw and hold the tape measure while he lined up the first cut of the day. Took only minutes and the saw went to work. It takes about 8 to 10 minutes to cut something that heavy and the operator and I took that time to introduce ourselves to one another.

When the cut was almost finished the operator picked up the cut sheet (the order sheet the foreman gave each machine operator for stock size and length) and frowned. Then he began to curse under his breath. I asked what was wrong but he waved me off.

Soon enough the saw finished and the blade lifted. The operator instructed me to grab the end of the tape measure and run to the end of the beam. I hooked the tape measure on the end and he gazed down at the measurement and let out a stream of curses that would make a longshoreman blush.

“What’s wrong!?!?” I demanded.

“It’s too $%@ @!&% SHORT!!!”, he bellowed back, “find the beam stretchers NOW!!”

“What are they and where are they?” I eagerly asked.

“ASK!!”

I was off!

Fifteen different machines, 15 different operators, “where are the beam stretchers? Jim gotta have them!”.... “dunno, go ask so and so” was each one’s reply.

Finally, the last operator said, “go ask Ernie.”

Ernie was the shop foreman and had been in the fabricating business for almost 35 years. I ran into his office and asked, “Where are the beam stretchers, Jim has to have them right now!”

For what seemed like an eternity I gazed into those ice blue eyes as he stared back at me in silence. Finally he closed his eyes and shook his head. “Dammit son, how in the hell do you stretch an I-beam!?!”

I was mortified. At that moment, all I wanted to do was run home to my Mommy, but the worst was still to come. After Ernie disgustedly told me to get back to work I opened his office door and was met by an eruption of laughter and guffawing. Every one of those SOB’s had made their way to Ernie’s door to see my face when I came out. Thank goodness there wasn’t a firearm handy or I would have shot the lot of them like the dogs they were.

Larry, a current co-worker of mine, is a retired Navy man. One day we were swapping stories, and he told me that his favorite prank to play on a new recruit is to send them to search the ship, the entire ship, for a 50 foot chow line. He said the trick was being specific and saying something like, not the 40 foot, but the 50 foot chow line —and stressing the 50 foot. He said over 90% fell for the gag, and what really made it fun were those times the victim would recruit other newbies to help.

Those gags always finished the same way: go ask the boss, have your ego completely destroyed, and then suffering the jeers from masses for weeks.

Now, pranking has gone to an entirely new level. YouTube has an entire genre on “pranking the new guy”...

A wheelbarrow proficiency test?

.... so now you get pranked and the whole world gets a grin.

In every scenario, the victim has one thing in common- they’re young. Eighteen or 19-year-olds and forever scarred by their older, more experienced, and infinitely more worldly new “friends.”

Like me, those in the videos were all just average Joe’s, full of piss-and-vinegar no doubt, as most 18-year-olds are, but possessing nothing like the mojo Terrance Ferguson thought he had going for him.

In my case, as I assume it was with most of the above examples of this soul shattering rite of passage, I was at least close to home. Not Terrance, aka “2K” Ferguson. His first lesson in making it in an adult world happened in another country, 9,300 miles away from anything remotely familiar.

Strange people with strange customs and accents eating strange food in a strange place with strange animals lurking about. This was the reality 2K found himself thrust into after signing a contract with the Adelaide 36’ers.

Big schools like Alabama and Arizona made offers, but when you’re an 18-year-old kid from a humble background that is also mature enough to heed all the sacrifices a family has made on your behalf and someone offers you a truckload of money, you sign up.

Now, let’s tie up some loose ends before we proceed. Pretend you’re a veteran player for the Adelaide 36’ers. What would you think? You get word the team has signed some big High School prospect from America to play with you next season. You’re curious of course, so you search the name, watch some video highlights, and then find this in the Player’s Tribune.

From the article:

“I’ve played against a lot of guys from overseas, and I’ve heard about how many hours they put in. If I get that many hours, with my talent, my athleticism, my game, my mindset, I can be one of the best players in the nation. I can be a top draft pick.”

and later on

“And, man, I’m ready. I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready. I’m already getting chills imagining coming through that tunnel, wearing that jersey, hearing the crowd get excited. I can’t wait to show out.”

“I’ve been working out three times a day trying to get my body in shape, pushing myself past my limits. I’m working nonstop on my off-the-dribble game, bringing the ball off screens, honing my one and two-dribble pull-ups, everything that’ll help me be successful in Australia. I can’t be scared, and I’ve got to be prepared.”

Ahh youth... if that isn’t a perfect example of the thinking of a precocious and fresh-faced adult, I don’t know what is. Not one word about the challenge he was about to face. He was the king of the world!!!! and what? “I can’t be scared...?”

Make no mistake, coming out of High School, Terrance Ferguson was the genuine article. While Markelle Fultz, the number one pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, watched the 2016 Nike Hoops Summit from the bench, Terrance Ferguson started. This was a major coup for the 36’ers, and every veteran player on the team knew it... but that article. Not so much as a tip of the cap to the challenge ahead.

Again, I ask: If you were a future teammate and read that, what would you think? I could see being excited, but also a feeling this little Yank needs to be whittled a bit, just a little sport with the lad? All in the name of camaraderie and team building of course. All in good fun.

Well, our brothers from Down Under had a doozy of a prank. I would even say it was one for the ages.

Drop bears.

You know, those blood thirsty face-eating koala bears. Hidden deep in the foliage of any and every towering Eucalyptus tree ready to pounce at any moment on helpless unsuspecting victims to devour their eyes.... their favorite part... with their vicious yellowed fangs!!! EEEEEEEEEEEK!!

The Aussies even had pictures!!!

A mother and her cub

One lucky victim that survived to tell the tale....

A full grown boar!!! Thank God he is sleeping!!

An unlucky cow...

Terrance Ferguson is about as American city boy as they come, and he’s told one of these rabid beasts could drop on him without warning!?!?

Sure, a quick Google search would have revealed the hoax in a matter of seconds. The Koala is a herbivore, a plant eater, that’s more interested in sleeping 20 hours a day than chewing on faces, but when you’re 18, you think you know everything and that is precisely what makes you the perfect target.

Speaking of targets, lets expand our ‘what if’ game and ask, what if you were a player from an opposing team in the NBL and read that piece in the Player’s Tribune?

It’d probably be something like: “If this piss-ant Yank thinks he can come down-under 'n' make some cushie money 'n' go home the big hero with no worries, he has another thing coming!”

The piece in the Tribune may not have been as outrageous as a Lavar Ball boast that he and his 19-year-old son Lonzo would have “schooled” the GOAT, Michael Jordan, back in the day, but it was a little prick at the egos of an entire league ready and willing to teach the future super star a thing or two.... and they did.

Within months after making his trip to the Outback, Ferguson put pen to paper for another post in the Player Tribune :

“Terrance,” one of my new teammates said, “because you’re an American, players are going to target you. And the refs aren’t going to give you anything.”

Man, they weren’t lying.

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.

I was like, What did I ever do to you? What’s your problem with me? You’ve never even met me before!

Later 2K offered an example of the welcome he got in the NBL:

“Once, I was lined up along the lane while a player on the other team was shooting free throws. He missed and I tried to get in position for a rebound, but another guy was boxing me out.

And by boxing me out, I mean that he put me in a freaking headlock. Look, I get that the NBL is a physical league, but man, I’d never actually seen someone bust out a headlock in a game.

I shoved him off of me, and the second that happens, the ref blows the whistle.

I’m like, Finally, they call a foul!

The ref makes the sign for a technical foul, putting his hands together into a T … and then points at me!

Hold up, I’m thinking. The dude put me in a headlock and I get the technical!

Welcome to the real world kid.

To his credit, Ferguson didn’t back down...

.... But his numbers suffered a beating as well as his body. Funny there was no mention about the “drop bears” in the second Tribune article, but he did learn something. Koala bears prefer Eucalyptus leaves to flesh.

He also learned he could take a beating and still produce, but not until after an adjustment period. The downside to a short 30-game season is there isn’t much time to make up for a slow start, but once he got rolling:

Adelaide 36’ers head coach Joey Wright had this to say about Ferguson prior to the 2017 NBA Draft:

"He's just a great person on and off the court. Terrance was really easy to coach … he was a coach's dream, obviously physically really gifted, really talented in his abilities."

Entering the 2016/17 season the 36’ers were projected to finish last in the league, but surprised everyone when they finished on top. What role did Ferguson play in that?

According to the Australian publication, The Pick and Roll, quite a bit:

“The young American import is averaging 6.0 points per game on 40% shooting from the field and 37% from distance. He also currently pulls down 1.4 rebounds and dishes out less than one assist per game in 18 minutes of action.

These statistics certainly don’t jump off the page, but Ferguson has been able to carve out quite an important role with the 36ers as of late. Since being inserted into the starting line up by head coach Joey Wright, Adelaide have reeled off seven wins in a row to sit atop NBL ladder after eleven rounds.
(emphasis mine)

I don’t fully understand “the ladder” system the NBL uses but it’s not hard to read the numbers and see the impact Ferguson had once his role was expanded midway through the season.

Wikipedia.com

I highly recommend reading that article from The PnR if you want to learn more about the impact Ferguson made with the 36’ers. Though, I will point out something the article’s writer does not.

Granted, Ferguson has offensive skills and there are plenty of highlight videos out there backing that up.... BUT.... six points per game is not going to turn a last place team into a league winner. You catch comments about it in his offensive highlight videos while he is dazzling crowds with GOAT’ish type dunks and 3-point shooting clinics, but what made the difference for the 36’ers, if 6 points didn’t do it, was defense. 2K has some underrated defensive chops, and why not?

He’s 6’7”, can touch a 8’7” ceiling flat footed, has a 38” vert and doesn’t back down from anyone.

And he’s hungry....

I know I’ve teased Terrance for being young, and a bit cocky, as did his teammates down under. But I also garnered something beyond the naivety of youth from Ferguson’s Player Tribune posts — 2K’s love for his family. Specifically his Mom. Making sure she never works another day in her life has motivated Ferguson since he was nine- -years-old.

Rachelle Holdman struggled to raise Terrance and his two older siblings by herself, while working two jobs —and for that Terrance adores her. From her he learned tenacity and a do-what-you-gotta do attitude. And when he traveled across the world, she was there too.

From a Chicago Tribune article just a month before the NBA draft:

“His mother told him many times he didn't have to do it. He didn't have to move 9,290 miles away from home. He didn't have to forgo college.

But Terrance Ferguson did it anyway.

I don't even care what she says," Ferguson said at the NBA draft combine in Chicago last week. I'm going to still do my part and take care of her. "

That's why he went overseas in the first place — for her.”

I don’t know what the future holds for Terrance Ferguson, but I now know a few things about him from his past.

He’s a young man with great character, he was brought up right, and he is willing to face life’s challenges head-on.

That may not sound like much on the surface, but if you’re made of the right stuff, have solid roots, and a can-do attitude you will achieve amazing things in your life.

Will 2K Ferguson be a star in the NBA? Honestly.... my gut says he will be. I think he was THE steal of the 2017 NBA Draft and he is a year further in the journey of life than any other player in this draft.

As his Aussie “mates” learned, he is a Dinky-di: the real thing and the genuine article.

I think he has the heart, the desire, and the skill to go all the way. I think Terrance Ferguson is going to be a star.

I mean, com’on, when you’ve faced Face-Eating Koalas and lived to tell the tale, who is Demarcus Cousins?

NBA: Chicago Bulls at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Meh, nuthin’ but a Dunny budgie....