Some people inherit the family business, some go into the same profession as their parents, but when it comes to the Thurman family, they become Arkansas student-athletes. For at least one, it just took a little bit longer.
The fourth and final member of the Thurman family, Romani Thurman, has decided to join the rest of her family in calling the Hogs. After wrapping up a freshman season at the University of North Carolina, the 5-foot-10 opposite hitter is headed to the Hill to join the Arkansas volleyball program.
With a mother who was captain of the Arkansas dance team, a brother who was a receiver for Razorback football and most notably, her father, Scotty Thurman, who secured the 1994 championship over Duke with a three pointer in the final minute of the game, Romani said her choice to continue the family tradition came easy.
“I consider it a legacy,” said Romani Thurman, 19. “Everyone in my family did something great at the University (of Arkansas)… It just gives me a breath of fresh air because I know I’m gonna be supported. I know that I have history here, so it gives me the drive to want to do something great here too.”
Growing Up as a Razorback
The family ties also extend to her father’s days working for the Arkansas basketball program. Scotty Thurman returned to Fayetteville in 2010 as director of student-athlete development. The former Razorback standout worked under head basketball coach Mike Anderson and is credited with connecting former and current Hogs such as Ronnie Brewer, Todd Day, Lee Mayberry, Darrell Walker and others. In 2019, the Thurmans moved back to Little Rock where Scotty began to coach and teach at Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School.
Scotty said he supports both his children to make the decisions best fit for themselves, but is happy to have his daughter closer to home.
“I’m excited for her to have the opportunity to see what it really, really means to be a Razorback,” Scotty Thurman said. “Obviously she’s been a fan from when I coached there and when her brother played football, but it’s so much different when you’re the person that (the fans) are cheering for.”
While most children spend their free time on the playground, Romani Thurman grew up within Arkansas’ athletic department learning work ethic from Razorbacks firsthand.
“It was just amazing,” Romani Thurman said. “Growing up around all the different athletes, going and interrupting practices of other teams and just running around being a little kid… (My dad) had me in the Razorback basketball weight room almost every day working on everything. Jumping, getting stronger, doing lay-ups… Just from an early age I was in the gym working.”
Those memories are shared by her father.
“She’s been a part of teams even when she wasn’t necessarily a member,” Scotty Thurman said. “When she was young, as probably old as 9 or 10, you know, we’d be going to the gym, working out. When she was 5, 6, 7, 8, she was around her brother and his teams, and whenever they’d be working out, she’d be doing what they were doing. Running up and down the court, so she’s kinda been a gym rat her entire life, she’s not afraid to get in there and work.”
Romani Thurman On the Court
Romani Thurman graduated early from Little Rock Christian High School to attend UNC after passing on scholarship offers from Arkansas, North Carolina State, Kansas State, Louisville and others. She said she fell in love with the culture of the school, the family-like atmosphere with the fans, and the level of academic and athletic caliber. A love for basketball legend Michael Jordan and his accomplishments sure didn’t hurt, either.
As a Tarheel this past season, Romani started in 18 of 24 matches having 90 set appearances. The freshman tallied the third-most kills and blocks on the team, sitting at 174 and 62, respectively.
Though Thurman found individual success within the 13-14 UNC volleyball season, she felt she needed to make a move.
“This semester has been quite hard on me,” she explained. “Just mentally and physically, being away from home. Knowing the support system that I do have at the University (of Arkansas) and the obvious history that I have at the school, it was just a clear indicator that I needed to come home and that I wanted to be nowhere but Arkansas.”
Romani Thurman said her year at UNC opened up new leadership abilities she didn’t know she was capable of. Through becoming more vocal on the court, intensifying her drive for the game, and being put out of her comfort zone, she said having a rookie year under her belt allows her to weed through difficult situations clearly and makes her better prepared for her role as a new member on the Arkansas volleyball squad.
“Being a newcomer on any team, you’re gonna have to work and fight your way to the top,” Romani Thurman said. “I think my work ethic is going to show. I wanna just make the biggest impact that I can on the team, so my hope is to come in, work, show what I’m capable of and be able to have that big impact on the team as far as being a leader and playing on the court.”
Leadership Role with Arkansas Volleyball
As far as being a leader for Arkansas, Romani has a chance to fill a big pair of shoes. On Jan. 6, four-year Razorback veteran Taylor Head announced her transfer to Florida State for her final season of eligibility. The outside hitter had started since her freshman year, racked up three All-SEC selections and led the team in kills at 316 this past season.
And what a year it was. Arkansas volleyball went 15-3 in conference with a 28-6 overall record. The VolleyHogs reached the Elite Eight for the first time in program history before falling to eventual runner-up Nebraska. Now, with Head moving on and Jill Gillen exhausting her eligibility, crucial veteran spots are opening up on a competitive team and Scotty Thurman hopes his daughter plays a part in bridging the gap.
“I feel like her role as a leader is gonna be critical,” Scotty Thurman said. “Especially coming off the type of season they had last year. They went from being an experienced team to now with Taylor Head making her departure to Florida State, it’s becoming quite a young team overall. I feel like her experience, even though it was as a freshman, is gonna be important to the team.”
Continuing the Thurman Legacy at Arkansas
In the upcoming season, the school on Romani Thurman’s jersey won’t be the only thing changing. After wearing the number 23 (MJ’s jersey number) her entire athletic career, Romani has decided to lean into familial significance with the number 30.
“I want to open up a new chapter for myself,” Romani Thurman said. “There’s no better way to do that than I feel like coming back home and playing at Arkansas and wearing my dad’s number. It was kind of a no-brainer to me… I wanna continue that legacy.”
Her father admitted he wasn’t particularly a fan of the change at first, but warmed up to the idea because of the logo that will accompany the number.
“I want her to continue to maintain her independence, and develop and cultivate her own name recognition,” Scotty Thurman said. “For me, it doesn’t really matter what number she wears. It’s just about her having that Razorback jersey on.”
When it comes to leaving her own legacy, Romani said she wants Arkansas to remember her passion for the game.
“I want them to remember my excitement and my drive,” Romani Thurman said. “I wanna make a big impact on the fans, on little girls, on my teammates. I want them to know I was the player who doesn’t back down and is always gonna keep going.”
More than 30 years ago, Scotty Thurman joined a nationally competitive Razorback sports program. It didn’t take too long for his addition to help them break through to the promised land and win it all.
It would be fitting to see his daughter do the same.
Get to know the newest Arkansas volleyball player, Romani Thurman, with this interview from last September:
More coverage of Arkansas volleyball and Arkansas basketball from BoAS…