Sai Tummala Q&A
Sai Tummala, who returned to his native Arizona from a visit to Hawaii this week and gave an oral commitment to play for the Rainbow Warriors, did a Q&A with the Star-Advertiser over the phone on Thursday.
Here’s what the Arizona State graduate had to say. Below that, his former junior college coach at Salt Lake Community College, Todd Phillips, gave his thoughts about Tummala.
Q: How are you feeling about the Hawaii decision now that it’s out of the way?
A: I mean, I’m really excited. I feel like I’ve got a really good opportunity to make an impact, and help a winning team win some more games. I just had a really good relationship with the coaches, so I think that’s what it came down to the other day, just the fact that I thought they would have my back and I thought I would have a good opportunity to play. It doesn’t hurt that it’s beautiful over there, too.
Q: Speaking of the coaches, did you know Coach (Norm) Parrish from your time at Salt Lake Community College?
A: Yeah, so when I was at Salt Lake, I used to go over and play with the guys at Utah sometimes. He was always there and obviously there’s a connection with some of my junior college coaches too, because they coached under him in the past. So he was really highly recommended with them and everything. I trusted their word and it ended up being a good situation.
Q: Was this your first opportunity to meet Coach (Eran) Ganot, and how did that go?
A: Yeah, it was my first opportunity to meet him. I mean, I really liked him. I think he has a great basketball mind. I think he understands the game really well. When I came on my visit, he really broke down a lot of stuff for me, in terms of Xs and Os, and what he wanted to do. It really surprised me. He knows all this stuff really, really well, so it was the first time I got to meet him, and I really liked that he was humble. That’s kind of why I was drawn to the program.
Q: I’d heard you were pretty close to committing to Montana before coming out to Hawaii and things changed your mind. Is that how it played out?
A: Yeah, I was actually getting ready to commit to Montana. And I got a call and I actually ended up going to Europe last week. So I was gone for about 10 days and I was talking to coaches from Hawaii while I was gone. And they (got me) to come on a visit, I decided to come up and I thought it wound up pretty well.
Q: Congrats on your honors accomplishments in pre-med, graduation at ASU and MCAT test result. Hawaii has the Burns School of Medicine, is that what you see yourself trying to get into?
A: I mean, if I could get in … with medical school it’s probably just where you get into medical school. Every school looks for their own specific type of applicant. And they’re very limited in number of seats. So it’s wherever I get in. I’m definitely going to be applying to the Burns School of Medicine. I got a chance to see it when I came on my visit. But, as far as school goes, I kind of finished out all of my work. So this year for me is really just an opportunity to focus 100 percent on basketball, and work on the court and see how good of a player I can become. I mean, the last four years of my career I’ve spent a lot of time studying. So I kind of want to take all that focus and put it on the court. … I used to study a lot. The classes were tough, and we used to travel a lot at ASU. We flew all over the country. So, whenever I had an opportunity to study (on flights, etc.) I would always take advantage of it. And this year I want to take a lighter course load so I can focus more on playing and spending a lot more time in the gym.
Q: So your med school plans are a year or two removed?
A: Yeah, so it would be … if I get an opportunity to play professionally, and then I want to go to med school whenever my career’s over.
Q: I read you want to be an orthopedic surgeon? Is that the goal down the road?
A: Yup, that’s the goal. Hopefully I can get there, but I want to stay around sports as long as I can and I think that’s one way I can do it, in terms of being a doctor.
Q: How would you describe the last couple years for you at ASU? It sounded like you had a number of choices coming off your strong year in JUCO?
A: It was tough. When I was deciding where I wanted to go out of junior college, it made a lot of sense to want to come home … I thought it was a good opportunity. And it turned out to be a little different than I expected. They had a guy there who kind of played in front of me. He’d (started) before and kept his role while I was there, so it was hard to break into the lineup. And it was frustrating, but at the same time I think I never stopped working and I think I’m ready for an opportunity where I can break out and show all the work I’ve put in the last few years.
Q: Between that and your redshirt stint at Michigan, does it seem like a long time coming to make an impact at a Division I school?
A: Yeah, exactly. I think every time I’ve gotten an opportunity to play I’ve done really well, it’s just the opportunities haven’t been there. I’m really excited for a chance to have that opportunity again.
Q: How do you describe your game?
A: I think the word I use the most is ‘versatility.’ I think I can do a lot of things, and I really play well off of mismatches. I can stretch the floor and I like playing off pick-and-pop. I like driving on mismatches, posting up smaller players. For me, it’s just who’s guarding me, what type of defense keeps playing on me and what the team I’m playing on needs the most. I think I can try to fit in to whatever system needs to be played at the time. I can shoot the ball really well from 3, and I’m athletic, I can play over the rim and get rebounds. So, those are a couple of my strengths.
Q: Did Coach Ganot talk to you about how you might fit in either at more of the 3 or the 4?
A: We talked a little about it, but for me it’s just where I can play, where I can help the team. I came to Hawaii ’cause there’s a winning tradition there, there’s a lot of support there. And for me it’s just, how can I help the team win. I mean, the 3, the 4, the 1, the 2, I don’t care. Wherever I can play and wherever I can help the team win, and hopefully we can win a championship.
Q: When do you get a chance to finalize things and make it official with UH?
A: Yeah, I’m waiting for them to send me the papers. I’m supposed to get it today or tomorrow, I’m not sure. But I told the coaches everything and they’re excited to send them over. Just waiting for that and I’ll send it right back.
Q: You coming out for summer session?
A: Yeah, I’ll be there in July. I’m actually doing a service in India, so I’m going to be (in Hawaii) probably around July 10. … I’m going to go teach basketball to youths in India and help on education and stuff like that for a few weeks.
Q: I know your parents are from there … have you had a chance to go there before?
A: It’s going to be nice. I haven’t been there in a really, really long time, actually. It’s probably been maybe 15 years. So, it’s going to be really nice to go back. I have a lot of family there. Good to see them.
TODD PHILLIPS, Salt Lake Community College coach
Q: What’s your take on Sai from coaching him a couple years ago (2012-13)?
A: Yeah, Sai’s a tremendous kid. Obviously on and off the floor he’s exemplary. Had a great year here, he was an All-American for us. His academics is stellar, just kind of through the roof with all he’s done there. I think he’s a great guy. Really good kid, really shoots the ball well. He actually can do some other things. He can score in the post. And pretty athletic. But his big strength is he can really shoot the ball.
Q: Is he the best academic athlete you’ve had pass through?
A: You know, he’s definitely up there. Funny thing is we’re a junior college, but we just had a kid sign at Brown as well. … As far as going on and what he did at Arizona State, graduating the top of his class there, he’s definitely right up there as one of the top kids.
Q: When he came to play for you, was he looking for an opportunity he wasn’t getting prior to that at Michigan?
A: Yeah, well he redshirted there, and I think he was looking for a couple things. He was looking for an opportunity to play right away, where if he transferred to another Division I he’d have to sit out. So that didn’t make a lot of sense for him. I think a kid of his stature who actually, part of the reason for going to Michigan was to get into medical school there. So, ‘oh, what am I going to do at a junior college.’ And so we had a long, long conversation with him and had recruited him for a long time, saying, ‘hey, you know, you can still get good academic stuff out of junior college, especially at Salt Lake. And then also carry that on to where you want to go.’ I mean, from our place he was getting recruited early when he got here by almost all the Ivy League schools. A lot of those guys were on him hard. And he was going to sign early, but we just told him to wait, let’s see how your year goes, we could have a really good year. Your recruiting will just go up and up. And that’s kind of what it did. By the end, he had 12 to 15 offers from high-major schools from all over the country. Then Arizona State came in a little late, but it was going back home, which made a lot of sense for him. He decided to go there.
Q: Did you keep touch with him the last couple years while he was at ASU?
A: I think he was frustrated, definitely frustrated with the playing time, the amount he could play. I think part of that too is he focused a lot on school, which is good, working really hard on that. He had huge loads, to be honest with you. Not only in basketball, but in the academic part. In the summer he was taking big loads to get through quickly on the medical part of it. But I think right now he’s really focused on basketball and has been working out really hard getting ready for next season. And so, I think he’s really excited. I don’t know what Hawaii’s sold him on taking there, but whatever it is it’ll be lighter than what he was doing and just can kind of prepare himself for what happens after this. Whether he goes overseas and plays after a year, or he goes straight into medical school or whatever he does. But I know he’s really excited about this next chapter and really focused and hungry on basketball.
Q: What do you see him doing in kind of this last hurrah situation at Hawaii?
A: He could be a really good player there. I think what Coach (Ganot) is going to do and obviously I’ve known Norm Parrish really well, he was with me at Salt Lake and actually was head coach here before. I’m sure he’ll have some influence on what kind of stuff they run. But we talked a lot with them. The great thing about Sai is he knows who he is and what his strengths are. He’s a pick-pop guy first and foremost, just knocking the ball down. We did a lot for him when he was here. I think he’ll give some athleticism around the basket, you know, he can get up and take one, two dribbles and dunk on a guy pretty well. And block shots in there. … I think his transfer from Arizona State will be a lot like Michigan. As he gets to Hawaii and gets some confidence in himself and his game, he’ll just blossom. And for us he was really good. He could really shoot it for us, and we had a really talented team that year. We had Gary Payton (II), he went to Oregon State. We had Skyler Halford, he just finished up (at BYU) in the West Coast Conference. … He was part of a good team and I think he’ll fit in really nicely there at Hawaii. I think your fans will really like him. Not only for his play, but just for the kid. Personality, and he’s just really well-spoken, articulate and smart.
Q: Is Sai’s story as much about waiting for that right opportunity as it is his stellar academic background?
A: Yeah, I think it is. It was what they had and where they were at at Arizona State at the time. To me, as a junior college coach, so much for these kids not even the level, but the fit. … You gotta get the right fit at the right place. So I think Hawaii is getting a really good steal. I know there’s a ton of people on him recruiting him really hard. He can fit in there and help right away, and help build that environment they’re trying to build there with tat new coaching staff.
BM, admiring your outstanding journalism as always.
particularly this one about Sai – you had erased every questionable aspect of his directions whether on academics or athletics or personal mentality.
he might not be a 7-footer, 4-starred… but, basically he’s that Ganot type.
if he’s really readied and concentrated as he “mouthed”, giving the opportunity to performs.
hope this rough-diamond gotten polished!?