MISSOULA – Ahmaad Rorie’s life can be summed up in three simple letters.
That acronym has two meanings to the redshirt senior for Montana’s men’s basketball team. But both sum up what makes the guard tick while establishing himself as one of the best to ever don a Grizzly jersey. Against Idaho State on Saturday, Rorie became the ninth player in UM history to surpass 1,500 career points; he is the first to reach that milestone in just three seasons.
Let’s start with the first one. T-L-F stands for trust, loyalty and family.
And when he takes the court night in and out, his No. 1 drive is for one person: his mother, Rhonetta Thomas.
You can see Thomas at most home games and sometimes on the road supporting her son. Making her proud is all he wants to do.
“She’s been there for me since day one. She loves basketball and she wants this dream for me as much as I want it,” Rorie said. “She’ll do anything for me when it comes to anything. Definitely my best friend and rock.”
Rorie said his mom played basketball and ran track growing up in Portland, Oregon. While talented, he said she never got quite where she wanted to go with sports, so she provides guidance and advice for her son to accomplish what he strives for.
“She kind of gives me that motivation for me to be successful,” Rorie said. “She tells me a lot of stories, and she’ll try to get me to avoid the bad things in life. She has definitely been extra motivation. I want to make money playing this game for my mom and give back to her.”
Just one game before Rorie reached 1,500 points, his fellow backcourt partner, senior Michael Oguine, became the eighth player to cross that mark. The duo passed Grizzly great Wayne Tinkle on that list. Oguine ranks No. 7 in Griz history in scoring at 1,527, and Rorie sits at No. 8 with 1,509.
“It was special. I’m real blessed,” Rorie said. “We are a program that wins, and when you’re a program that wins, personal success comes too. (Mike) being able to reach that plateau too is real cool. He’s a guy that works hard. We’ve been in the backcourt together, and I love playing with him.
“To be able to have that moment together was cool. We complement each other well so we’re trying to keep it going this last month that we’re going to play together.”
Rorie could make a case to become the program’s all-time scorer had he spent all of his college years in Missoula. But he began at the University of Oregon, where he spent his true freshman season. Labeled a four-star recruit coming out of Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington, Rorie started in 15 of Oregon’s 36 games that season. The Ducks finished 26-10, made the Pac-12 championship game and advanced to the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament before losing out to eventual runner-up Wisconsin.
Rorie was originally recruited by Montana coach Travis DeCuire to Cal, where he planned to go. But when DeCuire took the head coaching job at Montana, Rorie joined the Ducks. The two were always close, though, and after that first year with Oregon, Rorie said the original plan was to spend his sophomore year there as well and then weigh his options. After thinking it over, he decided to make the transfer right away and get a fresh start.
Leaving a school of that size and pageantry wasn’t easy, but Rorie’s coaches and teammates understood.
“They knew that me and Travis were close and ultimately I wanted to play for him,” Rorie said. “I didn’t take any visits or try to talk to any other coaches. I knew they had a scholarship open, and I got in touch with Trav and made the move.
“I didn’t want to be that guy who announced he was transferring and weigh all of the options. I just wanted to get it over with so I could come out here and make this home.”
Said DeCuire: “He’s been special for us. His versatility is something I’ve always admired. His ability to score and run a club and his feel and IQ for the game. It’s always good to have guys who dream big in your program as you have high expectations as a whole. I just thought he was a great fit for us here as he was at Cal.”
Rorie has appeared in 90 games for the Grizzlies, starting in every one.
And when it comes to stacking up against other Grizzly legends, DeCuire believes Rorie belongs right up there.
“No question,” he said. “There have been NBA players who have come through this program and none of them have scored as prolifically as he has. Most of the people that you’re going to look at that have scored the ball at a rate anywhere near him weren’t responsible for offensive production of others and that’s very difficult to do.”
Though Tacoma is only a 7 1/2-hour drive straight west of Missoula, Rorie said he’d never been to Idaho or Montana before joining the Griz.
Rorie’s college career has been full of adjustments because of the different paths he’s taken. Sometimes he reflects on where he could have been and admits that coming out of high school he never saw himself at a mid-major school nor did he know much about Montana’s program.
When he first arrived in Missoula, he said he was always asked why he left Oregon. So he did his best to block out the noise, something his mother and brother, Tre Rorie, helped with. And since he’s been in Montana, he’s embraced those changes and given the program his trust and loyalty and made it another family.
“Just knowing everything happens for a reason,” Rorie said. “I knew that I’d be in a good spot if I trusted my mom, my family and kept a small circle. I’m not really a guy who has a lot of friends. I have a lot of people I know, but I have a pretty tight-knit circle. So I knew that if I just trusted them and just went about this the right way, everything would pay off.
“I found a home here.”
That hasn’t come without challenges During the year he sat out because of transfer rules, Oregon made the tournament again and advanced to the Elite Eight. Then, his first year on the court with UM when the Griz went 16-16, the Ducks were making another deep tournament run, this time to the Final Four.
Even then, Rorie knew he’d made the right choice and says he’d look back with no regrets. He knew that Montana was capable of getting back to March Madness. And when the Griz made the NCAA Tournament last season, Oregon didn’t.
“Just trying to worry about myself and be the best player I can be for myself and my team,” Rorie said. “I think when I was able to do that and have success here, I looked back and got the most out of it. I didn’t want to look back and have any regrets, and I haven’t had any.”
TLF – which also stands for The Lord First – is a brand that Rorie and some friends from Tacoma have created. Rorie said he and his cousin Davis Crisp, who plays basketball at the University of Washington, and a friend, Philip Winston, all grew up together and created the group when they were around 12 years old.
Trust, loyalty, family came first while the group was hanging out and playing basketball.
It kind of faded over time, but as the group got older, they would hear others at open gyms talk about it and they realized they had something special in the local basketball and sports scene. So the group expanded. It’s up to seven now with Tamia Braggs, who plays basketball at Santa Clara, Malik Putney, who plays football and the College of San Mateo in California, Emmett Linton III, who plays basketball at Tacoma Community College, and Marcus Stephens, who competes for Dawson Community College in Glendive.
“We wanted to just make it like a tight-knit family that is among people who play sports and believe in the Lord,” Rorie explained. “That’s the reason why we made it. We just made it like a little group. Back home it’s real popular and a lot of people support it.”
Rorie makes gear and shirts with the TLF logo on it and gives it away to folks back home and wants to start a clothing line for the brand after college. The group hosts a tournament back home in the summer called the TLF 4on4. NBA players Isaiah Thomas — a Tacoma native and current Denver Nugget — and San Antonio Spur and Seattle native Dejounte Murray both attended. Rorie said other people, such as South Dakota State standout David Jenkins and others are always around to help promote their cause and are basically honorary members.
“There’s a lot of people who gang bang and do different stuff, but we just wanted it to be a group where we all played sports,” Rorie said. “We feel like we’re a good group for a good cause. Sometimes we read the Bible together. That’s why we made it so we could just be close.”
Tacoma usually ranks at or near the top in terms of violent crime in Washington. So Rorie and his friends wanted to have a positive impact in a city he’s proud to call home.
“It’s rough growing up in Tacoma sometimes. There’s a lot of gang violence, lot of people having kids at young ages,” Rorie said. “We wanted to stay focused on basketball and have a good group for a good cause.”
Not to mention how proud Rorie is of the basketball scene where he’s from. Rorie is close with Thomas, Avery Bradley and Seattle natives Murray, Jamal Crawford and Rodney Stuckey, all NBA players.
“One thing that I think is different about us and a lot of other cities is we give back to the city,” Rorie said. “They’re pros, but they don’t try to just be big-time. They come back and go to open gyms. They go around the city. You just don’t forget where you came from and that’s not what people from Tacoma and Seattle do.”
Rorie’s goals are high. He hopes to play in the NBA and got a taste of what he needs to do when he declared for the NBA Draft last year without signing with an agent. Thomas and Crawford give him advice, with Thomas telling him to “just win and personal achievements will come.”
He wanted feedback from NBA teams, and in return they told him they wanted to see him shoot well and show that he’s a good passer. He credits his mother and brother for helping him take criticism and improve, which he feels he’s done as the Grizzlies have raced to a 19-6 record and 12-2 mark in the Big Sky.
“He’s come a long way in terms of finding ways to impact the team,” DeCuire said. “For us, we wouldn’t be having the winning streak we’re on right now if it weren’t for him, even if his numbers aren’t the ones that stand out the most.
“Every team needs to have an extension of a coach, and he’s been that for us for three years.”
He graduated in the winter with a degree in communications, another milestone, and is working on a masters in media arts. And as the season winds down, he'll continue to solidify his Grizzly legacy while chasing another NCAA Tournament berth.
“It’s crazy to think about this being my last year,” Rorie said. “It’s definitely a blessing.”