“Deshaun has made the progression that you should make from your freshman to your sophomore year,” Buckeye coach Thad Matta said. “I think that the light is on for him in terms of what he has to do to be a fully effective player.”
But it was not easy for that “progression” to occur.
Thomas left Luers with the ability to score like few others ever had in this state. His belief in himself grew even more when he dropped 24 points in just 20 minutes in his first collegiate game (against North Carolina A & T.
“I was like 'I can play,'” Thomas said after that initial game. “Then the minutes (of playing time) started going down.”
What he learned after that start to his career from Matta was that the veteran coach really didn't care if scoring was all a kid was going to be able to do.
In the Big Ten Tournament championship game later that season, the third-leading scorer in Indiana high school history returned to the same court that he had won a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state championships on and played just two minutes.
“It was hard for me,” Thomas said. “But it's all about learning, and knowing that it is all about the team.”
The same guy that played a total 36 minutes through three NCAA Tournament games as a freshman, a year later played at least 39 minutes in three of Ohio State's five games.
“Deshaun is understanding the little things in the game (now) and how big of an impact those things can have,” Buckeye point guard Aaron Craft explained. “Whether it's grabbing defensive rebounds or playing good defense, hedging a ball screen hard, making the extra pass, things that make a basketball player a complete player.”
Thomas averaged nearly 16 points per game as a sophomore, but raised that to nearly 20 points per game during the Buckeyes' run to the Final Four last spring. He's continued to transform himself physically (he's down to 215 pounds, which is 20 pounds lighter than his freshman season), and as Craft, who lived with Thomas last season, alluded to, he continues to grow mentally as well.
“He now has such a better understanding of the game of basketball,” Matta said. “He knows that there are a lot of different ways that he can affect a game.”
Thomas has always been solid in rebounding the basketball, but said that he wants to add being feared by opponents as a passer to his areas of growth this season.
He seriously contemplated leaving for the NBA last spring, but elected to return for at least one more season at this level and through early practices, his coach couldn't be more ecstatic to have him back.
“It's been amazing to see his attitude and just his leadership,” Matta said.