For Deshaun Thomas, adjusting to new roles each season has become rather routine. After all, the Ohio State sophomore forward has had to do it in each of his last three seasons.
Thomas’ senior year of high school in Fort Wayne, Ind., might have been his favorite, given that all he was concerned with was shooting the basketball at every whim while doing anything within his means to be the focal point of his team’s offense.
In his freshman season a year ago for Ohio State, however, his world was rocked when he was given a limited role off the bench. At times, he still scored in bunches during quick spurts – which is why he’s been affectionately referred to as “Microwave Offense” – but it was the first time in his life when he wasn’t the offensive heart of the team.
Finally, there is this season during which Thomas has emerged as one of the Buckeyes’ starters while continuing to understand his role as a complete player – grabbing rebounds, playing productive defense and playing off more integral pieces to Ohio State’s offense such as Jared Sullinger and William Buford.
“It took me some time to play off those two, but I did learn it fast in practice,” Thomas said. “We have the best big man in the country (in Sullinger), and Will, he’s a great future NBA player. This is my time to play off them because Jared is a great passer and so is Will.”
Even mention the words scoring or shooting during a question and Thomas’ face is sure to respond with a smile. That’s still what he loves to do, and Ohio State head coach Thad Matta understands the type of player the sophomore is.
The coach encourages it, too. Given Thomas’ 6-7, 218-pound frame, the sophomore who scored the third-most points in the history of Indiana high school basketball can make buckets from both inside and outside.
“Deshaun is a very strong kid and you really don’t notice it, but he moves people around,” Matta said.
But that size could be used for something even more valuable in Matta’s estimation – grabbing crucial rebounds and causing disturbances on defense for opposing teams.
Last season, Thomas quickly earned a reputation for having a quick trigger with the basketball because he was prone to try to score even in situations where there was a better shot to be had.
Now as Thomas adjusts, Matta hasn’t been shy about communicating with his sophomore forward exactly what he wants and needs from him.
“Last season, everyone thought I shot too much and I think I did,” Thomas admitted. “But I have grown so much in practice and I understand the game more. I want to show people I can be valuable to this team on defense, too. It means a lot to me to take my game to that level.”
Even early this season, Thomas’ shot selection has shown flashes of reverting to his older ways, but Matta may be fine with that given his ability to get hot quickly and change the game.
It will take time for Thomas to change his reputation from being a player who is concerned only with scoring. Ironically, though, his motivation to do the smaller, unnoticed things on the court always comes back to one thing – scoring.
“Defense gives you offense. I’ve noticed that,” Thomas said. “Playing defense can make up for a lot of things on the court. Playing defense is just my motivation. I need to play defense first and offense second. That’s how I have grown and matured as I learn about the game.”
Statistically Thomas is having a productive season. Having started each of Ohio State’s six games, all of which were wins, the forward averaged nearly four rebounds per game, recorded only nine turnovers and averaged 12.3 points per game, third best on the team behind Buford and Sullinger.
Still, Matta reverts to what he finds important. If scoring is what motivates Thomas to be productive in other facets of the game, the head coach can live with the quick trigger.
“The ability to knock down shots is great,” the OSU head coach said. “But I see him out there and he’s trying as hard as he can on defense. I think his defense is 10 times better than it was last year. He’s so prideful in his defense right now. He wants to really, really defend.”
Thomas dropped roughly 17 pounds during the offseason – which has gone somewhat unnoticed because of the incredible progress both Sullinger and junior forward Evan Ravenel have made in losing weight – and that has allowed him to be able to move more efficiently this year.
“I noticed at the middle of the season last year that my knees were hurting really bad,” Thomas said. “In the summer, we figured it out. It was too much weight. As I lost that weight in the summer and worked really hard, I started moving better, was in better shape and (was) making more moves quicker. It’s really helped me a lot to perform out there on the court.”
Because Thomas has yet to prove himself as a defensive stopper, more than one opposing head coach admitted it has been part of their offensive plan to attack him. But the sophomore realizes that and knows he’ll have to continue to prove he’s capable of helping the Buckeyes replace some of what they lost defensively in the absence of David Lighty.
“I am sure other teams are watching film, but I can’t let (their plans to come at me) get to my head,” Thomas said. “It is just a motivation to me. This year is one of the best years I have ever played defense.
“It’s cool if teams are going to test me. Like I said, it is just a motivation.”
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