Sean Tuohy Jr. is now a freshman basketball walk-on at Loyola
by Don Markus
The relationship between Michael Oher and Sean Tuohy Jr. has — like Tuohy himself — grown dramatically in the 10 years since Oher was brought by Tuohy’s family into their home in the leafy suburbs of Memphis.
If those early years became the genesis of a best-selling book and a hit movie that documented Oher’s transformation into a college football star at Mississippi and the No. 1 pick of the Ravens in 2009, this year takes the brothers’ relationship to another place.
In Baltimore, call it The Other Side.
When Tuohy tweeted last October that he was coming to Loyola University to play basketball, it meant he would be reunited with Oher, who has been a mainstay on the Ravens offensive line since being drafted.
Since Tuohy arrived last month to take part in Loyola’s summer workouts and start classes, Oher seems as excited to have family nearby as Tuohy did when his parents took in Oher. The younger Tuohy is living on campus, but said he usually sees Oher “two or three times a week”.
“We’ve always been close, I always looked at him as a little brother, we always played games together, always been a sharp kid and he’s turned into a great guy,” Oher said during last month’s minicamp in Owings Mills.
Asked if Tuohy has grown from the precocious, know-it-all 8-year-old whose movie character interrogated the likes of big-time coaches Nick Saban and Lou Holtz when they came recruiting Oher — a characterization that Tuohy joked was “unfortunately accurate” — Oher smiles.
“Definitely not the same guy in the movie,” Oher said. “[He’s] sharp, smart. Just a good all around kid, fun to be around. I had him and some of his teammates over and we watched the [NBA playoff] game and the [Manny Pacquiao –Timothy Bradley] fight. He definitely can handle it, very mature, very smart. You don’t have to baby him or anything like that. He’s definitely his own man.”
Tuohy said his big brother had a “huge influence” on him growing up.
“The three things that I took from Mike was that if you were not having fun doing what you were doing, then don’t do it,” Tuohy said last month in the school’s student center. “He loved playing basketball. I looked at him playing basketball when I was an 8-year old kid and thought ‘Basketball must be the greatest thing ever.’
“Another thing Michael said — and my dad also said — was that if he wasn’t working, somebody else was. He was always out there, seeing him train so much set the standard for me. Mike was always going hard, so that’s what I did. When he was on the field, he was all business, when he was off the field, he was a fun-loving guy. You leave your attitude at the door.”
Though Tuohy seems to have a more outgoing personality than his big brother, their father, Sean Tuohy Sr.,said it stems mostly from the fact that “Michael is our only analytical kid, SJ is like everyone else — very emotional. ”
Still, the elder Tuohy said that “SJ is one of the few people who can break Michael down, they can end up talking on the same level … they love music, sports, cars, they’re both great students. They have a lot more in common than people think. They get along incredibly well and always have.”
Along with the Tuohys’ daughter, 26-year-old Collins, “they have their own little deal and once in a while they’ll let us in.”
Said the younger Tuohy, “I think deep down, Mike is a comedian. When he gets into playing host and having people over, he’ll get on a roll. He’s not shy but he chooses his words carefully.”
Just as Tuohy and his family helped Oher get acclimated to a much different environment when they invited him into their home, Oher hopes to do the same for Tuohy in what Oher said he considers his adopted hometown.
“Baltimore’s a great city, somewhere he’s going to enjoy,” Oher said. “I get to go watch him play games. I didn’t get to watch him too much in high school. I’ll get to hang out with him a little bit and help him enjoy the area.”
Tuohy can see how much his big brother loves Baltimore.
“I think that you can tell when someone comes home and they want to go back,” Tuohy said. “When Mike is down in Memphis or Oxford [Mississippi, where he went to college] he has a good time, but he’s ready to go back to Baltimore in two weeks’ time or three weeks’ time. He calls it home and he loves it here and hopefully it’ll be the same for me.”
Oher doesn’t seem to mind mingling in a community in which he hopes to spend his entire career.
“I love Baltimore, I definitely look at it as home, somewhere I’m very comfortable,” said Oher, his serious look softening a little. “I just love being here. Great city. Definitely have loyal fans, recognize everybody, no matter what you do for the team. I get to do everything, but they recognize everyone because they love their team so much.”
Said Sean Tuohy Sr., who spent time in Baltimore long before Oher’s arrival, “The people in Baltimore have been incredibly nice to him. It’s just been a great place. Good kid, give you everything he’s got, but it doesn’t mean they have to like him. They’ve never given him a hard time. It’s very comfortable.”
But Tuohy Sr. said, “If you were in Oxford or Memphis writing this story, he would say the same thing. He has a very strong feeling for the city just like he did in college.”
As for his younger son’s decision to attend Loyola, Tuohy Sr. said, “It’s really kind of strange how it happened but it feels like it was supposed to happen. It’s been good.”
The younger Tuohy’s decision to attend Loyola had less to do with Oher than he led some to believe. Sean Tuohy Sr. said that he was playing golf in Baltimore last summer with an old friend, Kurt Aarsand. When talk turned to SJ’s college choices, Aarsand’s wife Jeanne, asked “Why isn’t he going to Loyola?”
Jeanne Aarsand talked up SJ to longtime friend and Loyola men’s basketball coach Jimmy Patsos, who checked up on the 6-foot point guard through the Internet and Tuohy’s AAU coach in Memphis. He then called Tuohy offering him a chance to be a walk-on.
A few weeks later, Patsos was sitting a few rows in front of Tuohy’s parents at a Ravens game at M&T Bank Stadium.
“I’m recruiting your son,” Patsos told them.
“You’ll have to go through mama,” said Sean Tuohy Sr., referring to his wife.
Though Leigh Anne Tuohy wasn’t thrilled with her youngest child being so far from home for college — Collins had attended Mississippi along with Oher — the idea of having his big brother close by was certainly reassuring.
Sean Tuohy Sr. said that his son’s decision to attend Loyola “was about 80 percent Jimmy Patsos, and 19 percent the feeling he got for Loyola,” but having Oher around “since the decision has been huge…Michael even moved SJ into his dorm.”
Said the younger Tuohy, “It didn’t so much influence my decision but it made me so much more comfortable making it. It took away some nerves.”
Unlike his big brother, who is expected to start at either left tackle (ifBryant McKinnie doesn’t get in shape) or right tackle, (Sean Tuohy won’t make an impact on the Greyhounds for awhile. He is redshirting this season and Loyola is loaded at point guard, with R.J. Williams returning for his sophomore year.
Tuohy can’t compare the transition to his new environment to what Oher went through a decade ago, but “the thing that they have in common is that when Mike first came to Briarcrest, nobody gave him a chance to succeed or even previously. They had written him off. My sophomore or junior year in high school, nobody gave me a chance.”
Tuohy said he was offered scholarships to Louisiana Tech andArkansas State. He could have been a walk-on at Mississippi, where his father set and still holds the Southeastern Conferencerecord for assists, but he chose Loyola for the opportunity it would give him to pursue a master’s degree in communications. He wants to be a sports journalist.
For now he remains a walk-on redshirt looking to do whatever he can to help the Greyhounds get to a second straight NCAA tournament.
“I have my days where I say, ‘What am I doing here? I can’t make it.’,” Tuohy said. “As a redshirt freshman, you’ve got to know your role. Your role is not to go out and score 20 points. Your role is to work hard, help those guys work as hard as they can. I’m not trying to be a star, I’m just trying to fit in and have a fun time playing basketball. That’s what I am doing now.”
But Oher said that his little brother shouldn’t be underestimated.
“He’s going to put in the work and he’s smart enough to get the job done,” Oher said. “Whenever he gets a chance, he’ll be the smartest guy on the floor, he’s a smart basketball player, he knows how to play the game. A lot of guys just play basketball, he knows how to play the game.”