Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Deshaun Thomas plays the game like he doesn’t feel pressure.
Whether the screaming fans boo or cheer him, whether the clock is his friend or his foe, whether he missed his last five shots or made them, his game is the same.
See ball, score ball.
It’s robotic in its invariability, but organic in its instinctiveness.
The Ohio State men’s basketball team is reliant on this rare combination as Thomas, who averages 20 points per game, is the only consistent scorer for an inconsistent Buckeye team that sits at No. 10 in the national rankings.
But as soon as he walks outside the gym, Thomas has responsibilities that make carrying the scoring burden look a lot less daunting.
Thomas has a child – a son – and his responsibilities on the court are vital to fulfilling his responsibilities off of it.
The two worlds of pressure have been intertwined from the start.
The child was born on the same day OSU beat Cincinnati in the Sweet 16 of the 2012 NCAA Tournament – a game in which Thomas torched the Bearcats for 24 points.
But because Thomas was in Boston with his team, he had to miss the birth of his son.
“It was kind of hard and the mother was kind of sad about it, but she understood what it takes and the business side of it and going out and performing for him,” Thomas said.
Two days later, Thomas scored 14 points to help catapult OSU to the Final Four. When he returned home, his son was there waiting.
“The day that changed me was after Syracuse, and I went home and he was there, like how little he was, how small he was, and it really changed me,” Thomas said Monday. “It brightened my eyes knowing I got somebody to look up to me.”
Thomas bypassed the opportunity to declare for the NBA Draft after OSU lost to Kansas in the Final Four – instead returning to be the unquestioned No. 1 scoring option of a team many expect to do big things come March.
Coupled with the responsibility of being a father, it’s a lot of pressure for a 21-year-old, and one his coach said Thomas might have had a tough time handling when he was a freshman.
“Deshaun has obviously blossomed as a person in terms of from where he started on day one to where he was now,” said coach Thad Matta. “I know the parenting situation is something he takes very serious. His life is a little different now than most college guys and him accepting that responsibility, very proud of how he handled that situation.”
Thomas has a future in basketball. He won’t be the first overall pick in the NBA Draft, but he can make a good living playing professionally in the states or abroad.
The better he plays, the better his future career will be and the better he can provide for his son. It’s a fact Thomas said he’s keenly aware of.
“You can’t do anything negative,” Thomas said. “Because you got somebody looking up to you following in your footsteps, so you got to watch what you do and just knowing that you got to work even harder and harder for someone in your life who’s very important in your life to eat and to live.”
Tuesday Thomas and the Buckeyes begin a brutal two-game stretch starting against No. 3 Michigan that will end Sunday against No. 1 Indiana.
How the Buckeyes do could go a long way in determining where they finish in the Big Ten title race and the NCAA Tournament.
But Thomas – like normal – is immune to the pressure.
“It’s going to be nice for a scorer like me,” he said.
Tipoff against the Wolverines is set for 9 p.m. Tuesday.