Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
LOS ANGELES – Lately, it seems like Deshaun Thomas can’t help but laugh – and loudly at that.
It’s probably not a particularly surprising observation, but it’s one that seems more striking than normal.
After all, his Ohio State Buckeyes are one win away from returning to the Final Four for the second-straight year after collapsing down the stretch against Kansas last season.
That fact, in part, is thanks to Thomas, who once often had to carry an otherwise lifeless OSU on his back in times when no else could.
Things are a bit different now.
While there’s little doubt the Fort Wayne, Ind., native is the Buckeyes’ most-reliable scoring threat, he’s had help in OSU’s 11-game winning streak since getting clobbered by Wisconsin in mid-February.
Thursday, it was sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross who surged late with 17 points and buried the game-winning shot against Arizona.
Last Sunday, it was Aaron Craft, whose buzzer beater punched the Buckeyes’ tickets to their fourth-straight Sweet 16 in Los Angeles.
And that might be something worth grinning about.
Perhaps, then, it’s not all that surprising that when Thomas was let in on what Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall had to say about him in interviews Friday, his eyes widened and he flashed a smiled.
“He is a – and this is a compliment – he is a bad-shot taker and a bad-shot maker,” Marshall said in a press conference at the Staples Center.
While it seems rather clear that Marshall’s comments were intended as praise for the Big Ten’s leading scorer, it might also be reasonable to assume such words might sting with a player who’s so defined by scoring that he admits his teammates call him “Eshaun” when he forgets to play defense.
When Thomas heard what the Shockers coach had to say, though, he dropped his head down and let out a series of hearty chuckles as his face crinkled and crumpled in laughter.
While Thomas continued to grin and glow, his teammate, Aaron Craft, might’ve encapsulated best what it’s like having a player who, sometimes, puts the Buckeyes in binds before personally rescuing them from such predicaments.
“Yeah, Deshaun has probably taken more of those shots that you’re really hoping he doesn’t take,” the junior guard and OSU floor leader said.
“But he has a knack of putting the ball in the bucket. Even if he misses those shots, he usually finds the way to get the ball again on an offensive rebound. So it’s tough to get angry at him. There are time when you get him to relax and understand situations and things like that, but he’s going to do what he does. He does a phenomenal job of taking the ones that we need him to take and he puts the ball in the bucket. So you can’t complain too much.”
But Thomas admits he’s become more and more self-conscience about his shot selection.
“Actually, when I take a bad shot and I know, I go to Craft and be like, ‘Man I should’ve taken an extra dribble, you know, I think that was a bad shot,'” he said.
“And he’s like, ‘No, you’re fine, you’re fine. It was a good shot.’ So you know, having Craft on your side helps.”
It appears that, sometimes, Thomas’ mind is a whirlwind of three voices on the court: one that tells him he should’ve taken that extra dribble; one that tells him he should’ve done what he does best and shoot the ball; and one that tells him he needed to pass.
“In basketball, you can be out there thinking like, ‘Dang, I’m gonna get a good shot but like, man, I should’ve passed it,’ and the next thing you know, I just go to the next play. That’s what you got to do as a basketball player,” he said.
But Thomas added that passing the ball more is something he dwells on. And for someone who loves to shoot as much as he does, he said it doesn’t bother him.
“I don’t really get mad because I passed it,” he said. “But coaches sometimes get mad that I passed up an open shot.”
“Even in practice or during the games – (assistant) coach (Dave) Dickerson’s like, ‘No, you got to shoot that’ if I pass it.”
Thomas said it’s because sometimes teammates aren’t prepared for him to feed them the ball since usually it’s the other way around.
In particular, Thomas playfully took aim at junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr, who he said is rarely ready for a pass from him.
“You gotta be ready, I surprise y’all.”
It’s why he said Smith and some members of the squad do their best to mock him when he decide he wants to be a facilitator rather than a finisher.
“It’s Lenzelle and Craft sometimes … Lenzelle be like, when I pass the ball like on a play that’s normally for me, he’ll be like, ‘Man I don’t know you passing the ball.’ Then he probably air-balled it or missed it,” Thomas said, grinning ear to ear.
“You gotta be ready, man. It’s one of my great passes I can make. One of my great.”
Perhaps ironically, Thomas said his ability to share the ball was what drew OSU coach Thad Matta’s attention while in high school at Bishop Luers in Fort Wayne.
“It’s so funny because I didn’t really think about it (but) coach Matta really recruited me because of my passing in high school if y’all really didn’t think about it. I used to get like eight, seven, six, assists in high school. But I got in college and I just got too hungry.”
For OSU to return to the Final Four – and maybe further – it might need both versions Thomas: the one who’s gift-wrapping out assists and the one who, as he said, just loves to “hoop.”
Against Wichita State Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at the Staples Center, it seems that notion will be no less and no more crucial.
“Coach Matta always preaches, ‘Deshaun: take good shots. We need good ones,'” he said.
“And I learned, and I’m doing pretty good at it.”