Thomas expects Ross to make leap

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Men's Baskertball
Deshaun Thomas Expects ‘Q’ to Make Similar Leap Next Year

By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When the clock ran out on Ohio State’s 2010-11 season, Deshaun Thomas was nowhere to be found.

Deshaun Thomas
Photo by Jim Davidson
Deshaun Thomas

The highly-touted freshman from Indiana was on the bench for all but three minutes of Ohio State’s 62-60 loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 of the 2011 NCAA basketball tournament.

That’s where he spent most of his freshman year in Columbus.

A high school All-American, and one of the most prolific scorers in Indiana basketball history, Thomas averaged only 14 minutes a game off the bench in his first year with the Buckeyes.

That’s 14 more than LaQuinton Ross played as freshman this past season at Ohio State.

Like Thomas, Ross was an elite scorer on his high school team, but he walked into a situation in Columbus where Thad Matta already had a plan in place for getting his team back to the Final Four.

“It was kind of difficult coming back and realizing as I worked my way back in that I probably wasn’t going to play,” said Ross, who was ruled an academic nonqualifier for Fall Quarter, just before the start of the basketball season.

“I got over it after a while. It (was) good playing on a great team. We (were) top 10 like all year, so it was wonderful.”

LaQuinton Ross
Photo by Jim Davidson
LaQuinton Ross

The Buckeyes did make it all the way to the Final Four this past March, thanks in large part to the emergence of Thomas — who went from the end of the bench as a freshman to Ohio State’s No. 2 scorer as a sophomore.

After a breakout regular season, Thomas scored a career-high 31 points in Ohio State’s 78-59 win over Loyola-Maryland in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. He averaged nearly 22 points per game in the first four rounds, while Ross watched from his spot in Thomas’ old seat at the end of the bench.

“Whenever he is down, I just tell him I was in this situation before, and now look at me,” Thomas said.

“ ‘Next year it’s going to be you, and you just have to be patient.’ That’s what I did. I waited my time, and he listened to me. He’s waiting his time and just keeps working hard.”

Ross is in the gym every day getting up jump shots and working on his game this offseason in hopes that year two for him will look a lot like it did for Thomas.

“I kind of see myself the same way,” Ross said during the tournament.

“Deshaun was highly recruited coming out of high school, but didn’t play a lot as a freshman. Now he’s having a breakout year.”

A four-star prospect out of Jackson, Miss., Ross wasn’t quite as highly recruited as Thomas, who was once touted as “the Next LeBron James” as an eight-grade phenom.

Ross was considered an elite scorer at Life Center Academy in Burlington, N.J. — where he spent his final two high school seasons — and that’s something his OSU teammates got to see glimpses of while he was working out with them last summer.

“He’s long, first of all, and for his size and position he can handle the ball well for his position,” teammate Lenzelle Smith, Jr. said.

“He can also shoot the ball very well too, so it’s going to be hard for other teams to match up against him. You have that big who can also put the ball on the floor and shoot off the dribble.”

That’s something Thomas is working to add to his game. He was an elite offensive rebounder and a 33 percent outside shooter this year, but Ross may already have a more-well rounded offensive game than Ohio State’s top-returning scorer for next season.

“I guess I was labeled as a scorer coming out of high school,” Ross said.

“I feel like I can do it all, post up, shoot threes and get to the rack.”

If teams are going to allow it, he prefers to do the bulk of his scoring from behind the arc, where Ross has been known to catch fire in the past. Outside shooting was an area in which the Buckeyes were sorely lacking this past season, and as a result, Ross heard a lot of the buzz from the fans about his lack of playing time.

“I heard it a lot. I like it, though,” he said.

“I hear it on Twitter and whenever I step on the court. It is kind of crazy because I (didn’t) play a lot.”

Regrettably, that didn’t help Ross adjust to life on the bench. He used Twitter as a way to vent his frustrations over a lack of playing time after Ohio State’s 78-68 win over Minnesota in late February.

“I want him hungry,” Matta said shortly after Ross deleted his ill-advised tweet.

“I think 'Q' knows he’s got a tremendous future here, there’s no doubt about that. He’s been awesome in practice.”

He has also developed a good relationship with the other guys on the team.

“One of the best things about LaQuinton is he’s a good person,” point guard Aaron Craft said.

“He’s a good guy to have around. He fit right in with us in the summer and the freshmen really liked him. That’s one of the tougher things with having someone new.”

There will be a number of new faces in the lineup for Matta next season, as he replaces star sophomore Jared Sullinger and senior William Buford — two of the team’s top three scorers from a year ago.

The Buckeyes will also be without reserves Jordan Sibert (Dayton) and J.D. Weatherspoon (Toledo), both of whom opted to transfer in the off-season. The return of Thomas gives Ohio State a premier scoring threat, along with a legitimate chance to contend for a Big Ten title.

Thomas also expects Ross to play a big role in the OSU offense next season.

“Q reminds me of myself,” said Thomas, a 6-7 wing who averaged 15.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game this past season.

“I played more minutes last year than he did (as a freshman), but he’s a scorer. If you watch him in practice, he’s a scorer. He’s a mismatch. He’s long, he’s athletic. He reminds me of myself.”

The idea of two 6-7 or 6-8 wings who can play inside or step out and hit the three could be a scary proposition for opposing defenses in the Big Ten next season.

“Me and him, we can stretch the floor at every position,” Thomas added, shortly before announcing he would return for his junior season at Ohio State.

“I can see it. It would be a nightmare.”

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