May 13, 2012

Steve Solloway: Longstaff's making his way in the NBA

The days of the week mean little to Josh Longstaff. Saturday might as well be Sunday, Monday might as well be Wednesday. His life is defined by when the Oklahoma City Thunder play basketball and when the team practices.

If Longstaff could find the off button to his days, he still wouldn't punch it. He is another pair of eyes for the Thunder, searching for what helps them win in the NBA.

"This isn't my job," he said. "It's my addiction."

Two years ago, he traded the normalcy of working sales for Idexx Laboratories in Scarborough and coaching the Gorham High boys' basketball team for a frenetic life in the NBA. He is in his second season as a video analyst, one of three used by the Thunder to pick apart games after they've been played.

If he had an ego, he'd pat himself on the back. Oklahoma City swept the defending champion Dallas Mavericks out of the playoffs last weekend. The Los Angeles Lakers or Denver Nuggets are next on the dance card.

These are Longstaff's pinch-me moments. He is a 30-year-old Portland native who discovered long ago his quick-release jump shot wasn't quick or accurate enough for an NBA career. Instead, his head has gotten him to where his feet couldn't take him.

When Longstaff had five minutes to catch his breath this week, he might feel the whirlwind. He can't. He's too busy sitting in front of a television monitor, clipping video snapshots. He's too intent playing against Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant for hours on the practice court, helping them understand what he and the assistant coaches gleaned from the video work.

Celebrate the sweep of the Mavericks in Dallas last weekend? Three years ago the Thunder, transplanted from Seattle, were one of the NBA's weakest franchises. Now they're one of the best in the Western Conference. There is a freshness about this team that's won over fans around the country.

The players returned to their locker room after Game 4 and shook hands with teammates, coaches and support staff like Longstaff. They were all remarkably restrained.

"Coach (Scott Brooks) tells everybody, we've got to build this brick by brick," said Longstaff during a midweek phone conversation. "We're not finished."

Brick by brick has added meaning in Oklahoma City. Before the World Trade Center fell in New York City and before Hurricane Katrina caused so much death and destruction in New Orleans, there was the Oklahoma City bombing. When Longstaff put the ocean and pine trees in his rear-view mirror and headed to America's heartland he didn't understand all that was waiting for him.

Longstaff was 13 when Timothy McVeigh parked his truck filled with explosives in front of the Murrah Federal Building near the city center. The death toll was 168. More than 300 buildings were either destroyed or damaged.

"When Coach talks about resiliency, humility and community, guys like Kevin (Durant) and James (Harden) and everybody, really, understand. You can still see the damage. You still see buildings being rebuilt.

"Boston fans are so passionate because there's so much history built on the championships won by the Celtics, Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins. Here it's more day by day. We don't talk about winning a championship. It never comes up."

Oklahoma City got its first NBA team four years ago after the SuperSonics abandoned Seattle. The Thunder, thanks in large part to Durant's selfless play, found a home in a state that reveres its big-time college football teams.

At the other end of the phone, you can imagine Longstaff shaking his head. So much changed so quickly in his life.

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