Deshaun Thomas never met a shot he didn’t like during his freshman season at Ohio State, so head coach Thad Matta promptly introduced him to the bench.
The transition from high school to collegiate basketball may have been about as dramatic as possible for Thomas, who was only concerned with one thing before getting to Ohio State — scoring by any means possible.
With an immense size advantage over the competition while playing high school ball in Fort Wayne, Ind., Thomas scored all the way to being named the No. 24 high school basketball prospect Scout.com, even if that meant allowing other aspects of the game to take a backseat.
In high school that approach worked for Thomas, making him one of the nation’s most coveted prospects and a star. In college, however, it made him a role player off the defensive-minded Matta’s bench.
“I was shooting from anywhere in high school,” Thomas admitted. “I was the lead scorer in high school scoring all the points. “It was kind of different on my part coming in. In college you cant force shots like you did in high school. High school I did anything I wanted.”
Though Thomas wasn’t in the same role he had been in his entire life, there was still a certain beauty to the way he played the game in his freshman season. At times, Matta even didn’t seem to mind Thomas’ ill-advised decision making for what shots he deemed appropriate.
The 6-foot-7, 215-pounder would occasionally come off the bench when Ohio State was struggling offensively, chuck up a shot that went in, and go on to spark a run for the Buckeyes.
“He scored 3,000 points in high school and you can’t change your mentality,” assistant coach Jeff Boals said. “That was kind of his role last year, to provide offense off the bench and be that spark plug which he was.”
Perhaps his way of playing the game was more easily endured by the Buckeyes because the team was loaded with deep, yet diverse talent.
With veterans such as David Lighty, Jon Diebler, and Dallas Lauderdale leading the way the for standout freshman Sullinger and first-year point guard Aaron Craft, the highly-ranked Buckeyes could overcome missed shots by Thomas in inopportune times.
Not that it was always bad when Thomas checked in.
For instance, Thomas came up big for the then-undefeated Buckeyes on the road at Illinois early in the Big Ten season, as the forward came off the bench to make three shots in 12 minutes to help Ohio State overcome a halftime deficit and stay perfect.
“When he hit his first few shots he was a difference maker for us because he gained confidence,” Boals said. “I think with Deshaun, he came in looking to score and when he did that it was a big boost confidence-wise and it gave us a big lift.”
But gone are the veteran leaders that took up most of the minutes in the box score during Ohio State’s memorable 34-3 season in 2010.
Thomas, who averaged only 11.8 minutes and 5.3 points per game during the Big Ten season a year ago, is now expected to take on an instrumental role on an Ohio State team that certainly won’t lack the expectations to repeat as national title contenders.
He’ll be back in the role he found comfort in while in high school, likely taking one of the starting spots filled by the voids left by those seniors.
“They expect big things out of me,” said Thomas, who has shed 10 pounds this offseason in effort to become leaner. “They expect me to be a Dave Lighty type that can score really well. They want that energy and to have that motor like Dave.”
Those shoes won’t easily be filled, particularly because Lighty was perhaps the best defender in the Big Ten Conference a year ago. Ironically enough, Boals will call on the kid that admittedly didn’t play any defense during his prep career.
But Thomas swears he grown from the kid a year ago that never met a shot he didn’t like. He understands the nuisances of good basketball, finally believing that he can pass on a shot he thinks he can make to find a better one for a teammate.
He believes he can do that without altering his aggressive approach.
“The scoring mentality is kept the same,” Thomas said. “I am always going to be a scorer coming in if I am in a starting position, my mindset is always going to be in score. As I went on in my college career last year it all came to me. It is about being a team and taking good shots when we need them and playing ball.”
Returning to Ohio State is Big Ten Freshman of the Year in Sullinger, Craft, and senior guard William Buford, all of which are more than viable scoring threats.
The Buckeyes yet again will likely be ranked high in the polls and the expectations to repeat the successful season they had in 2010 will be prevalent.
Thomas knows what’s ahead and hopes to play an integral part in achieving those goals. But he’ll be the first to admit it won’t quite look the same.
“I want to achieve all those things,” Thomas said. “I want to score and I want to be aggressive, but I know we can’t do those things that we have done in the past without being a team.”
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for Buckeye Sports Bulletin. He can be reached at AWasserman@BuckeyeSports.com.
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