December 9, 2012

The maturation of Deshaun Thomas

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The frustration in Deshaun Thomas's face was apparent.

The Ohio State forward had just missed back-to-back three-point attempts on a single possession fewer than three minutes into the Buckeyes' game against Long Beach State. Thomas threw his arms up in the air in disgust, but after some words of encouragement from teammate Aaron Craft, OSU's leading scorer did what he does best.

He smiled.

"Aaron just pulled me to the side and said, 'Hey man, the next one's going to go in," Thomas recalled.

Ohio State's first-team Academic All-American point guard turned out to be wrong, however, as just three minutes later, Thomas missed his third consecutive shot. Even as short as a year ago, the Indiana native would have likely gotten down on himself and his slow start against the 49ers. But not the new, more mature Thomas.

Instead, Thomas put together a complete half of basketball, in which he not only scored eight points for the Buckeyes, but recorded four rebounds and two assists. The 2012 preseason All-American said that his first half performance against LBSU was just a sign of how far he's come in his two and a half years at Ohio State.

"I've just learned as a player to know that the next one is going to go in," Thomas said. "The other shots were falling and I was making great passes and the game was rolling and I was very excited about it."

The shots eventually fell for the No. 3 scorer in Indiana high school history, who finished the game with 18 points. But while Thomas admitted that an ideal game for him would see him attempt 30 shots, the most excited that he got all night came after he paid back Craft for his confidence, by assisting him on a three-point shot.

"It's just me becoming a player and just knowing the game and understanding it. Knowing when to make the extra pass," Thomas said. "Probably freshman year, I wouldn't have made that pass. I probably would have jacked it up. It's just me learning the game and becoming an impact player and knowing there's other things than just scoring. There's other things in the game of basketball."

Those words would have seemed more than unlikely to hear from Thomas just two years ago, when questionable shot selection limited his playing time as a freshman. OSU head coach Thad Matta said that he singled out Thomas in front of the team after the game for the way that he bounced back from his slow start.

But perhaps what impressed Matta more on Saturday was the way that his leading scorer found ways to make plays without putting the ball in the basket, assisting not only on Craft's three-pointer, but a lay-up by LaQuinton Ross, and a play that led to Amir Williams drawing a foul.

"He was so excited when Aaron hit the three and hit LaQuinton on a nice pass for a layup. Those are things from that perspective of just continuing to understand the whole phase of the game and how he can affect it," Matta said. "To see him get excited for Amir getting fouled was good."

With Jared Sullinger in the NBA and William Buford having graduated, Thomas now finds himself not only as the Buckeyes' top scorer, but as a leader as well. That's a role that the 6-foot-7 forward says he's more than comfortable with, and something that he proved in OSU's win over the 49ers.

"I trust these guys. We all can shoot the ball, and it starts in practice," Thomas said. "It's very natural to me."


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