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Terrell rebounds from painful past at Georgia State

From a pain-filled past to a much brighter future, ThomasTerrell is making a strong rebound with the Georgia StateUniversity Panthers. Terrell has achieved star status as a juniorforward at the Atlanta-based school, helping lead GSU to the TransAmerica Athletic Conference Tournament championship and anautomatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Terrell’s climb to stardom has been difficult at best. He wascut from the Brookhaven High School varsity basketball team as asophomore. Later, after starring for two years at BHS and becominga major college prospect, Terrell signed with Copiah-LincolnCommunity College when his ACT score fell short of the requiredlevel.

At Co-Lin, Terrell encountered more difficulties while sometimesshowing flashes of brilliance. His lack of effort in practice andin games drew the wrath of Co-Lin coach Dennis Sims, a sterntaskmaster. As a sophomore, Terrell was dismissed from the team andthen reinstated. Another dismissal during the playoffs ended hisjunior college career on a sour note.

The loss of his father in a tragic accident when he was 13 yearsold burns deep in Terrell’s soul. It is no comparison to thevalleys he has experienced in his basketball career.

An auto mechanic, Terrell, Sr., worked on vehicles under a shadetree close to the family’s home in the West Lincoln community.

Terrell, Sr., was working beneath a car when it slipped off thejack. Young Travis Terrell, then age 7, was the first to discoverthe body the next morning. He told his older brother that “Daddywas sleeping under the car.”

Depression enveloped the young teenager. “I didn’t want to doanything after he died. I wanted to quit playing basketball but mymom (Barbara Hurst) wanted me to continue to play.”

Terrell had been a junior high school star at West Lincoln butthe family moved into the Brookhaven district. His high schoolcoach, Preston Wilson, cut him from the roster as a sophomore.

Terrell grew physically stronger and taller. His ability to dunkthe ball gave him confidence. His shy. introverted nature causedcommunication problems with teachers and coaches.

“It was hard to communicate because he wouldn’t talk,” saidCoach Wilson. “You could tell he had talent but it was hard tomotivate him.”

GSU assistant coach Michael Perry was impressed by Terrell’sathletic ability and perimeter shooting skills. Veteran head coachLefty Driesell has seen his share of talented basketball players in30 NCAA Division I seasons and Terrell impressed him.

“Thomas shoots the ball great from the perimeter,” saidDriesell. “I’ve never seed a big man shoot threes better thanhim.”

Driesell compares Terrell to Duke All-American Shane Battier.”He can score inside and outside. Thomas leads our team inthree-point shots made. He’s a strong rebounder, too.”

Terrell, standing 6-foot-7 and weighing a muscular 232 pounds,was crowned TAAC Tournament MVP last weekend. But when theall-tournament team was announced, Terrell was nowhere to befound.

Driesell recalled the happy scene after the Panthers had won thetournament and the awards were being distributed. “When theyannounced Thomas’ name for tournament MVP, I asked, ‘Where’sThomas?’ He had already left for the locker room and was taking ashower.”

Avoiding the spotlight, Terrell said he preferred not to beinterviewed on television. His shyness was evident.

“Thomas spends a lot of extra time shooting and working out,”said Driesell. “He has a great attitude. He’s laid back inpractice.”

Terrell said he is enjoying his time at Georgia State and all ofthe activities a large city provides. “I’ve grown up a lot. I likeAtlanta. If you don’t have a strong mind, you can lose track ofwhat you’re trying to do.”

The Panthers boast a 28-4 record and eagerly anticipate Sunday’sNCAA Selection Party.

“I’m excited,” said Terrell. “I used to watch it (NCAA) ontelevision. Now I’ve got a chance to play in it.”

At GSU, Terrell is surrounded by a flock of talented players.”Our whole lineup could have gone to high D-I schools. Some of ourplayers came from Georgetown, LSU and Georgia Tech. Like myself, Icould have gone better.”

Terrell and his teammates play an up-tempo game. “I’ve improvedmore as a perimeter player and I like the man defense we play. They(coaches) have taught me how to be a better player.”

Driesell has produced NCAA tournament teams at Maryland,Davidson and James Madison in a glorious, 38-year coaching career.He believes in a closely knit team. He and his wife often treat theteam to cookouts and dinners.

“I still miss my momma’s red beans and rice,” said Terrell.”After the tournament, I want to come home and visit.”

It should be a happy homecoming.