Deshaun Thomas’ week was inundated with extra shots, film sessions and one-on-one meetings with the Ohio State coaches, all in effort to get to the bottom of what has been causing his recent shooting slump.
The problem had to be solved for Thomas, who had already put the weight of the Buckeyes’ latest attempt at an NCAA Tournament run on his shoulders.
Last season, he averaged 19.2 points per game in the Big Dance while leading the Buckeyes to their second Final Four under head coach Thad Matta. Thomas has admittedly been eager to reproduce those numbers.
“When you’re the man, there’s pressure,” Thomas said. “I know I have to score for this team and be as consistent as last year, especially now that we’re in the tournament.”
So it’s understandable that Thomas’ head was spinning when he walked onto the University of Dayton Arena floor on Friday evening for No. 2-seed Ohio State’s opening tournament game against No. 15 seed Iona.
Everything was on his mind: His slump. Patience. Shot selection. Last year’s success. Defense. Rebounding. Hustle.
“Shooting,” the Big Ten’s leading scorer, known for his love affair with putting the ball in the basket, quickly interjected while smiling.
It was easy to joke after the game. Thomas had just scored a team-high 24 points and made 8-of-12 field goal attempts in Ohio State’s 95-70 win over Iona, quickly turning the page on the shooting slump he worked tirelessly to snap.
But for at least a split second during Ohio State’s warm-ups – when the pressure was still tangible – Thomas looked up into the stands and saw his son. In that moment, basketball didn’t matter, his slump was immaterial and he was simply just a father.
“I saw him up there dancing before the game and I was just watching him,” Thomas said. “It almost brought a tear to my eye.”
A year ago to the day, Deshaun Thomas Jr. was born. His father wasn’t at the hospital with the mother, Jasmine Lewis, because he was in Boston with Ohio State for the Buckeyes’ Sweet 16 matchup with Cincinnati.
Thomas scored 24 points while leading Ohio State past the Bearcats, 81-66.
“It was great night because I helped my team win and I had a good game,” Thomas reflected. “But it really hurt to be away from my son. You always want to be there when your first-born son is born, but that’s what I had to do for my basketball career.”
Much has changed in the year that’s flown by since March 22, 2012. Thomas has become a more complete player, one that appreciates the game of basketball for more than simply scoring, and his son is now taking steps.
But some things are still the same. Thomas is still a Buckeye – though he contemplated leaving for the NBA after his sophomore season – and No. 2-seed Ohio State is again an attractive pick to make a deep run in the tournament.
Thomas matched the same point total he had the day his son was born, but he did it this time in the effective manner Matta said was crucial for Ohio State to remain alive in this NCAA Tournament.
He took only 12 shots in 30 minutes on his way to 24 points. When he reached that total a year ago against the Bearcats, it took 16 shots in 39 minutes of action.
“I think this – I was very happy to see Deshaun play as efficiently as he did,” Matta said. “That was something we have spent a lot of time on this week with film, extra shots and that sort of things. We know this – our team needs him to play his basketball in order for us to continue to advance.”
And advance is what the Buckeyes have done, and Thomas hopes to build on his most recent scoring onslaught in Ohio State’s next tournament game on Sunday. Deshaun Jr. will have his first birthday party on the same day, and his father, again, will be absent.
“He’s kind of young so he isn’t going to remember, but I am sure when he gets older and older he is going to wonder, ‘Dad, where are you?’ ” Thomas said. “Hopefully I won’t have to miss more milestones, but right now I am still chasing my dream.”
The immediate dream is to get the Buckeyes to the Final Four again, and then maybe he’ll pursue the NBA after his junior season.
But in the present, Thomas is just having fun maturing while being the scoring weapon the Buckeyes desperately need if they're going to make their second consecutive trip to the Final Four.
Tonight, Thomas helped the Buckeyes take the first step toward those dreams in front of his son who is still learning to walk.
“That’s a tremendous responsibility to raise a child,” junior point guard Aaron Craft said. “Sometimes we’ll catch ourselves complaining about things we have to do, but none of us have to go home and take care of a kid. Deshaun is growing up as a person and he has grown into a great all-around player.
“We can use his scoring, too.”
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