DeShaun Thomas is riding high into the 2012-2013 season
Thomas—a highly skilled 6'7'' forward from Fort Wayne, Ind.—is back for the Ohio State basketball team, but he's taking on a new role—superstar. The basketball Buckeyes are once again looking to make some noise in the Big Ten and on a national stage.
But if this Buckeye squad is going to be able to live up to the expectations their recent predecessors have brought to the program, then they are going to need a All-American-esque performance from the 2010 Indiana Mr. Basketball—an accomplishment he is prepared to achieve.
Thomas averaged 15.9 points and 5.4 rebounds a game last season for the Buckeyes as a sophomore. The team won a share of the Big Ten title and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Those numbers alone are impressive, but it was the show he put on through the first four rounds of March Madness that has Thomas in the national eye.
Thomas averaged 21.8 points a game while he helped lead the Buckeyes to the Final Four before their loss to national runner-up Kansas.
His four-game outburst shouldn't come as a surprise and certainly isn't a fluke. Thomas has a long history scorching nets—he is the third-highest scorer in Indiana high school basketball history with 3,018 points. He also scored 20 or more points in nine games last season, including four such outings in the team's eight tournament games—three games in the Big Ten Tournament and five games in the NCAA Tournament.
As a freshman, Thomas was the seventh man in a six-man rotation for the 34-3 team that was led by Jon Diebler, David Lighty and Jared Sullinger. But one thing was very obvious, no matter the situation, Thomas was never going to shy away from a shot he thought he could make—which is pretty much every shot he's ever come across.
But, that is not meant as a negative because Thomas has a knack for making even the craziest shots. Likewise, his fearless attack allows him to take the big shot with confidence and he has been enough of a shot-maker to gain the trust of his coach.
Perhaps the best proof of that came late last season when Thad Matta drew up plays for Thomas—not senior William Buford—when the Buckeyes needed a three against Wisconsin and again against Kansas.
Unfortunately for Ohio State's team and their fans, Thomas was unable to deliver in either occasion. But now—as the unquestioned go-to-guy—he will likely have plenty of chances to redeem himself in 2012-13. One thing is for sure—Thomas won't be scared to take the shot.
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta is characterized as a great recruiter and a "player's coach." Matta is similar to Kentucky's coach John Calipari in that they both run systems akin to NBA teams. Meaning, they both run sets, but rarely run highly structured plays—which gives their players more freedom.
Likewise, Matta puts his five best players on the floor and they rarely come out unless they are winded, in foul trouble or the game is a blowout.
Matta has had at least four players average over 30 minutes a game in three straight seasons, and only once in his eight seasons at Ohio State has he had less than two players average 30 minutes per game.
Matta's offense is suited perfectly to the free-spirited Thomas and the extensive playing time Thomas will enjoy will only strengthen his All-American chances.
While it is highly unlikely Thomas will turn any heads with his assist totals—in two years he has taken 686 shots and in the process dished out only 52 assists—,Thomas is an above-average rebounder and ever-improving defender.
Last season, Thomas corralled 5.4 rebounds a game—a respectable total. Matta expects that number to increase and points to Thomas' knack for grabbing offensive rebounds (2.6 per game) as proof the Buckeye forward can haul in more boards on the defensive end of the floor if he gives a little more effort.
To gain All-American honors, Thomas does not have to lead the nation or the conference in rebounds—though that wouldn't hurt his chances—but improving last season's number by two or three rebounds a game would give a significant boost to his All-American candidacy—not to mention his nose for offensive rebounds often leads directly to him scoring more points.
With Sullinger gone, Craft, Smith Jr. and Scott will be looking to Thomas for scoring
The Buckeye lose two-time All-American forward Sullinger and four-year starting guard Buford—who is third all-time in scoring at Ohio State. But they still return enough talent to remain in the national spotlight.
Besides Thomas, Ohio State returns last season's Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in point guard Aaron Craft and backcourt running mate Lenzelle Smith Jr. In 2012-13, both are expected to improve on their sophomore seasons in terms of scoring—8.8 and 6.8 points a game respectively. But neither are the type of player that can be relied upon to consistently carry the load offensively.
Senior Evan Ravenel and rising sophomores Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and Sam Thompson are all expected to contribute more on both sides of the floor as more minutes have become available for them. But don't expect any of them to look for shots very often.
The only other "scorer" on the roster is a 6'8'' smooth-shooting forward LaQuinton Ross—another sophomore that did not see much action last season due to the team's frontcourt depth and academic issues that delayed his arrival in Columbus.
Put all that together and it means Thomas is on a talented team. One that is likely going to be in the Top 10 for much of the season due to their talent, depth and defensive prowess—but it's a team that will need Thomas to carry them offensively.
Thomas is a rare breed. He is always looking for a way to get a shot and always begging for the ball. However, he still seems to have a great relationship with his teammates and coaches.
Basically, he seems to have the mentality of an NFL wide receiver—minus the constant complaining to the media about his coaches and teammates.
But it's easy to see that he loves to play basketball and most importantly—to him—loves to score. Thomas always has a smile on his face and always hustles, even when he is playing defense—something he didn't do much of in his first season in Columbus and he admitted as much during last season's NCAA Tournament. However, he has improved enough on the defensive side of the floor to no longer be a liability.
There is just something special about watching a player who genuinely enjoys playing the game as much as Thomas does. Even if some of the entertainment he brings is humor due to an ill-advised shot he throws up—only made funnier when the "swoosh" of the net serves as the punchline to the joke.
Thomas' chances of making a run for a spot on the All-American team's frontcourt won't be blocked by names like Sullinger, Anthony Davis, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Thomas Robinson, Terrence Jones and Perry Jones III—all first-round draft picks in the 2012 NBA Draft.
College basketball will still have plenty of proven talent in the frontcourt led by Cody Zeller of Indiana and Doug McDermott of Creighton. Along with a relatively unproven, yet supremely talented sophomore, James Michael McAdoo of North Carolina.
Overall, Thomas may be behind Zeller and McDermott in name recognition right now, but if he picks up where he left off last season—four 20-point games in eight tournament games—he can make up ground quickly.
Appropriately enough, this unorthodox, undersized forward will start his season playing a boat against Marquette. Something tells me playing outside won't affect this play-ground style scorer.