For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series presented by Babcock Hoops, we have JT Thor, from Anchorage, Alaska:
Prospective Insight: For those who aren’t familiar with you already, can you share a little about your background?
JT Thor: I was born in Omaha, Nebraska. I moved to Anchorage, Alaska when I was like five years old. I’m South Sudanese. My parents are from South Sudan — they migrated here.
PI: How long were you in Alaska?
JT: I was in Alaska until I was like 14 years old...then I moved to West Virginia.
PI: Can you talk about the transition from Alaska to Huntington Prep and from Huntington Prep to Norcross?
JT: Well in Alaska there really aren’t a lot of trainer. I didn’t really take basketball serious in Alaska. I wasn’t that serious because we didn’t have access to gyms...we’d just be outside all day, like me and my friends. My brother was already a hooper — he played at a JUCO in Texas — then when he was done with that, he pretty much just wanted to put me under his wing and try and get me real good at basketball. I always thought I could be a good basketball player, but I didn’t have the access or the resources like that in Alaska. I moved to West Virginia because that’s where he was at...he had a little house over there, so I went to Huntington Prep and it was different. Like the first two weeks I was dead...like the basketball culture is different...practice every day, sometimes I wouldn’t even want to hoop like that, but we had practice every day — we’d be in the gym from like 3 p.m. until 9 p.m., it was crazy. I got the hang of it and started getting better. I feel like I progressed really quickly, so by the time the summer started with EYBL, I was averaging pretty good numbers, I was doing pretty good. I started getting noticed pretty quickly. Then I came here to Norcross the next year (this year), and I like the transition so far. I like Atlanta, Georgia, it’s pretty hot. Way better than Alaska...it’s pretty cold in Alaska.
PI: What are the biggest differences between West Virginia and Georgia? How is the basketball culture different?
JT: Everything. West Virginia is cold, it feels like a ghost town. Atlanta is really hot. The games are packed (in Atlanta), everybody likes basketball, everybody talks about basketball. In West Virginia we’re like the only basketball team...like we’re the only competition really, we only had to worry about other prep schools...we didn’t have to worry about nobody in the city, but Atlanta is different.
PI: How did you like playing in the Les Schwab Invitational in Portland?
JT: It’s a great tournament, first of all. Also, I got to see my family — my auntie lives in Seattle so she came down to see me. I haven’t seen her in a really long time so it was great seeing her. Besides that, I like the tournament a lot...I like how organized the setup is and there’s great competition.
PI: Who were you most impressed with?
JT: Devin Askew, he gave us a good night when we played them.
PI: Describe your game – what are your greatest strengths and biggest areas for improvement? What’s the most underrated aspect of your game?
JT: I feel like my strengths are that I’m a really good slasher and a really good shooter. Our offense and defense hasn’t really gelled together, so we’re not playing to our strengths right now as a team. I don’t think we have gelled together yet. If you’ve seen me hoop before, you know I’m a really good shooter, I play hard, and I like to get to work. I need to get stronger. Just getting stronger every day, getting more locked in. I can improve those things. I feel like I’ve got to come with a different mindset coming in. Also. my ball-handling, using my right hand a lot more are other areas I can improve. I think my passing skills [are underrated], like some days I can have seven assists and I’m a flashy passer...I can throw flashy passes. I didn’t do it much at Les Schwab, but it’s in my bag though.
PI: Talk about your all-time greatest memory on the court.
JT: I would say probably two years ago, when I was on Boo Williams EYBL team. I was on 16’s, I was playing up at the time. Coach put me in at PG the whole game and I was like 6’8” and I jumped in at PG and I had like 30 points and six assists. It was pretty fun...it was a good game, we won the game too — it was against Philly Pride.
PI: What do you need to focus on most in preparation for the NBA?
JT: I need to get the pro mindset...I need to do what’s going to keep me in the league for 10-to-15 years. Every pro works on like one or two things, like they don’t all do the same thing...everybody has different strengths and weaknesses that they put their mindset to when they go to the court, I think that’s what I got to do.
PI: What number do you wear?
JT: I wear #15 currently, last year I had #4, but I like #15 right now, I was thinking of throwback Carmelo Anthony from Denver so that’s why I picked #15.
PI: What do you love most about the game of basketball?
JT: I just love basketball because I feel like it’s the only thing to do, it just takes everything away...like when I’m hooping I just think about hoop, I don’t really think about nothing else…
PI: What are you your long term goals as a basketball player?
JT: Long term, I want to make the NBA...I want an NBA jersey.
PI: Do you model your game after anybody in particular?
JT: I watch a lot of Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo. I watch them a lot. I feel like they’re my body type. Kevin Durant the most...I loved him ever since he was in OKC, when he left I was kind of mad, but I still love KD though. I model my game after him a lot, or at least I try to.
PI: How do you feel like you compare to guys like Jonathan Kuminga or Jabari Smith?
JT: Well me and Kuminga were teammates my freshman year, we used to work out together every day — that’s my dog. He’s really strong and he’s working on his shot...he’s becoming a real good player...the number-one player in the country right now. So I feel I match up great with him and Jabari because we’re all roughly the same size, we’re all versatile, we can do much more than stay in the paint...we can go in and out, so I feel like we have the same kind of game.
PI: Who is the hardest player you’ve ever had to guard?
JT: Hardest player I’ve had to guard would probably be Makur Maker because he goes back and forth and doesn’t get tired. It caught me blindsided because I had a game the day before where I played the whole 35 minutes and the next day I was kind of tired, my legs weren’t really there and he was just running back and forth and his team just beat us...they beat us by like five or six points, but it felt like we got whooped. That was against Compton Magic and I was playing with Henry Coleman, he’s going to Duke.
PI: Who is the most talented teammate you’ve ever had?
JT: At Huntington Prep last year, we had me, Jaemyn Brakefield, AJ Hoggard, Josh Primo, Dudley Blackwell, and Jimma Gatwech — the super freak athlete — he was on our team, too, so we were a pretty good team. In terms of the best teammate I’ve ever played with, I liked playing with Jonathan Kuminga a lot because every time we played pickup we’d just gel together...like we could throw no-look passes to each other, we’d already see each other so I feel like Kuminga is one of them [top teammates].
PI: Who would you say has influenced your life most up to this point?
JT: I’d say probably my brother. He gives me a lot of advice, he navigates me through the world...I feel like he blocks a lot of things out for me, so I feel like it’s him.
PI: What motivates you?
JT: I feel like it’s two things...one, is just the love of the game...I love basketball, but the days when I don’t want to do anything, I don’t want to go to the gym, but I know I have to, it’s my mom. My mom is working, she has two jobs, she’s working to take care of my two little brothers, so I feel like I have to get up even when I’m feeling tired or I’m not feeling good. That’s what keeps me going.
PI: How many siblings do you have? Are they all in the United States?
JT: I have four brothers and three sisters. Yeah we’re all scattered around right now...we used to all be together, but now we’re kind of scattered. One of my older sisters is in Phoenix, two of them are in Alaska, Three of my brothers are in Portland and one is in Alaska.
PI: Do you ever have any fear of becoming satisfied?
JT: No, never, because I feel like I was born a hustler. I feel like I’ll never be satisfied with anything. I’m my biggest critic. I feel like I can never have enough...I’m not saying I’m greedy, but I’m not satisfied easily. I’ve been like as broke as you could ever be — not a quarter in my pocket — so I feel like nothing satisfies me.
PI: Name four words that best describe you.
JT: Humble. Calm. Thankful. Cool.
PI: Tell us something about yourself most people have no idea about.
JT: A lot of people think I’m serious and quiet. A lot of people think I’m serious, but I’m just quiet, I observe a lot of things. People come up to me and they’re like, “you good?” and I’m like, “yeah I’m good.” They’ll think I’m in a bad mood or something, but I’m just chilling and looking...I’m just quiet.
PI: Have you thought at all about taking an alternative route other than college? Like training for the draft or going overseas, or something like that?
JT: I like the idea in general, because some people aren’t meant for college in a way...not necessarily that college could hurt you, but I feel like some people are pros in high school and college shouldn’t be there for them. I’m not necessarily saying that for me, but I feel like that’s a good idea to think about or look into.
PI: What is your biggest passion outside the game of basketball?
JT: My family, pretty much...I feel like I’d do anything to get my family on top, even if it wasn’t basketball. That’s what I always think about, I just want my family to be good...like taken care of...that’s pretty much it.
PI: Describe what your life will look like 10 years from now.
JT: Shoot hopefully I’m here [in Portland] playing the Trail Blazers, just working out, doing what I love, playing basketball, and making sure my family is straight.
PI: At the end of the day what do you want to be remembered for?
JT: I want to be remembered as a person who took care of people. I want to be the person to merge people, like merge communities and be a good person — a good kid. When people say “good” I want them to think of me. I want my people to be taken care of and I feel like if I take care of my people I just want like a “thank you” back, that’s all I need from them...I don’t need nothing else back really, just some gratitude.