Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor
Ohio State basketball coach Thad Matta knew what he was getting in Deshaun Thomas. The junior forward is a scorer, but ever since Matta could remember he’s also had a bit of a loose trigger.
When Thomas played in the 2009 Class 2A state championship game in his home state of Indiana, OSU’s coach was there to watch.
The game’s opening tip went to Thomas who immediately threw up a deep 3-pointer. Air ball.
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” Matta said to the person sitting next to him at the game.
Thirty-four points and 15 boards later, Thomas’ Bishop Luers High School was hoisting the state championship trophy.
Now, the same guy who hurriedly threw up an ill-advised air ball in his high school’s state championship game and admitted that he used to “chuck threes, just play to get that shot up” during his freshman year at OSU is the man who will lead the Buckeyes’ offense this season.
Is Matta comfortable with that notion?
“Yeah,” Matta said. “I think so.”
He might not have any choice.
With former forward Jared Sullinger now with the Boston Celtics and guard William Buford playing professionally in Spain, much of the night-to-night scoring load will be thrust onto Thomas’ broad shoulders.
After the Buckeyes’ 2011 tournament run to the Final Four, it appeared Thomas might join his two teammates in the professional ranks.
“It was close,” Thomas said of his decision. “I was thinking about it … because I had a great season so I was very close. But then I sat off in my room by myself and I made that decision myself, and I think I made a perfect decision by coming back.”
His return is a big reason the Buckeyes – which are playing in what is expected to be the most difficult basketball conference in the country – are ranked No. 4 in both major preseason polls.
For the Buckeyes to live up to those expectations, Thomas – who was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press – will have to play a major role.
The OSU forward showed he had the capabilities to be a major player last season, averaging 15.9 points and 5.4 rebounds for the season, and 19.2 points in the NCAA Tournament.
Most of his production though, came with the defense focused on Sullinger, giving Thomas a little more freedom. As the only returning Buckeye to average more than nine points per game, the ire of opposing defenses will be fixed upon Thomas.
“I’m pretty sure in the Big Ten it will be different,” Thomas said. “I seen how they played Jared last year and I think this year I’ll probably get some of that.”
To prepare him, Thomas’ teammates tried to simulate the added defensive pressure he’ll face during summer workouts. His teammates employed double teams, triple teams and traps in scrimmages, and tried to make things as difficult as possible for him on the offensive end.
“That’s going to help us big during the season when he realizes that guys are keying in on him,” said junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. “It’s not going to phase him because he’s going to be so used to it from our open gyms that he’s not going to think twice.”
How did Thomas deal with the added pressure?
“Believe it or not, there’s two people guarding him, pulling on his jersey and he still scores the ball,” Smith said. “I mean, I don’t doubt him.”
His coach doesn’t either. Matta said Thomas has reined in his free-shooting ways and has turned into a more complete basketball player.
“When he came in here as a freshman, if you weren’t sitting on the rim he couldn’t see you when he caught the ball,” Matta said. “He’s added a lot of different things to his game and his basketball IQ just continues to expand.
“He’s making himself a complete player.”
Thomas and OSU are set to tip off their season Friday against Marquette as part of the Carrier Classic on board the USS Yorktown in Charleston, S.C. Tip is set for 7 p.m.