Thomas Had to Weigh Fatherhood in Decision to Return
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Where would Ohio State be without Deshaun Thomas this season?
That’s a scary proposition for head coach Thad Matta, his assistant coaches, the other OSU players and anyone who follows the basketball program in Columbus.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Thomas is currently leading the Big Ten in scoring at over 20 points per game. He is also the league’s top free throw shooter and one of the most dangerous outside shooters in college basketball’s top conference.
With him, the Buckeyes are a top-15 team fighting for a chance at a sixth Big Ten title in nine seasons under Matta. Without him? Who knows, but Ohio State was pretty close to finding out.
“It was close,” Thomas told The-Ozone before the start of his junior season.
“It was going through my mind after the season because I had a great season. It was very close.”
One of the main factors weighing on Thomas at the time, other than his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA, was the fact he had just recently become a father. Something that quickly altered the entire outlook of a second-year player who had to grow out of the immaturity that plagued him at times during his rookie season in Columbus.
“That changed me,” Thomas said recently after an episode of The Journey showed him with his nearly one year old son, Deshaun Jr., on Big Ten Network.
“I went home and he was there – just how small he was, it really changed me. It brightened my eyes knowing I have somebody looking up to me.”
That somebody was born during last year’s NCAA Tournament. Thomas was preparing to play a critical Sweet Sixteen game against in-state rival Cincinnati, and he was rolling off a 31-point game against Loyola (Maryland) followed by an 18-point performance against Gonzaga.
“It was kind of hard (missing his birth). The mother was kind of sad about it, but she understands what it takes and the business side of it,” said Thomas, who was once compared to LeBron James as a freshman at Bishop Luers High School back home in Fort Wayne, Ind.
“I told myself at the time, no pressure. I always went to bed at night and said there was no pressure. It was hard to think about it. But we were making a run to the Final Four. It was a blessing. Against Cincinnati, he was born and I had a big game. I was happy. I told myself I was going to be happy and there was no pressure. I said, ‘You have a beautiful son coming into your life.’ It was all motivation.”
Thomas said teammates like Jared Sullinger, William Buford and Jordan Sibert helped him keep his mind right. As a result, he went out and dropped 24 points on the Bearcats. He was 9 of 16 from the floor and 3-for-5 from behind the arc with six rebounds in an 81-66 victory that propelled Ohio State to the Elite Eight in Boston.
He would follow up that performance two days later with 14 points and nine big rebounds during a seven-point win over Syracuse that would send Ohio State back to the Final Four in New Orleans.
“One day when we get to talking and he asks that question, ‘Dad, were you there?’ I’ll be like, ‘Son, I was there in spirit,’ ” Thomas said with his childlike smile.
“I had a great game against Cincinnati, 24 points, and it was all or you.’ ”
By then, just about everyone knew the name Deshaun Thomas. He was the overall leading scorer in the tournament and had quickly emerged as a dynamic secondary option to OSU All-American Jared Sullinger.
Some projections had Thomas going late in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft if he opted to leave after his attention-grabbing performance in March Madness.
It ended with a thud, however, as Thomas struggled to overcome early foul trouble in Ohio State’s loss to Kansas in the Final Four. NBA Draft Analyst Joe Kotoch wasn’t so sure Thomas would have been a first round pick a year ago after all was said and done.
“Last year, if memory serves me correct, we had him somewhere around the top 40 or so,” said Kotoch, a former NBA agent who runs the website ProBasketballDraft.com.
“Basically late first round or early second round, but I tend to believe in Deshaun’s case he was probably going to fall into the early second round more so than sliding up into the first.”
Thomas showed a lot of style and sizzle during the tournament, but there were also limitations to his game. The fact he was not only thinking for himself but also for Deshaun Jr. was enough reason to consider making that jump, regardless of the outcome.
“I sat back in my room and made my decision by myself,” Thomas explained.
“I think I made a perfect decision to come back and get better and improve what I can do.”
Thomas has upped his rebounding, scoring, three-point percentage and free throw percentage as a junior this season, despite the fact he is always the center of attention for opposing defenses.
He also grown a tremendous amount away from the court, with the help of his teammates and the coaching staff, as he adjusts to life as a father.
“Deshaun has obviously blossomed as a person in terms of where he started on Day 1 to where he was now,” Matta said, as if he was talking about his own son.
“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, I’m very proud of how he handled that situation.”
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