FORT WAYNE – When Deshaun Thomas walked the halls at Bishop Luers, he would hear the chatter.
He’s going to make it, they said.
And Thomas always believed he would make it to the NBA, and that could be tonight as the league holds its draft.
Not since Tracy Foster was taken by the Philadelphia 76ers in the sixth round of the 1987 draft has someone from Fort Wayne been selected.
Thomas has the talent. You don’t get a scholarship offer from Ohio State as a freshman in high school, as Thomas did, unless you have talent.
There have been many cautionary tales of players not making it to the NBA, and Thomas’ greatest achievement may be that he remained focused and didn’t let the hype get the better of him.
I have come a long way, Thomas said. Growing up and playing at Bishop Luers, this was always the dream. All my friends would be like, Oh, you are going to be the one that makes it.’ It was just fun coming out of Luers and keeping my dream and keeping my head level.
The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Thomas spent the last three years playing at Ohio State. But before that, he honed his skills at the YMCA, where he was coached on the AAU circuit by Jim Whittaker, and Luers, where he played for James Blackmon.
Blackmon said that Thomas separated himself from the pack well before he arrived at high school.
Thomas won two middle-school championships and was a star AAU player.
People had expectations for him because of his great potential to be a great player, Blackmon said. As a coach, you evaluate young players and people say, If he plays to his potential, he will really go places.’ He did that.
At Luers, Thomas won Class 2A state championships as a sophomore and junior, was selected as a Parade All-American and was named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball.
He averaged 29.9 points and 13.9 rebounds in high school. He finished with 3,018 points, third all time among boys in Indiana behind Bedford North Lawrence’s Damon Bailey (3,134) and Lewisville’s Marion Pierce (3,019).
At Ohio State, Thomas experienced a lot of success – the Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 in the nation during his freshman season; he was second-team all-Big Ten as a sophomore and led the conference in scoring last season – but it wasn’t always easy.
He had to bide his time playing behind Jared Sullinger and William Buford, and he had to adapt to the college game and what coach Thad Matta wanted from him as a power forward.
The one thing that we talk about, and I think this in recruiting, you’re going to be a product of the environment that you choose, Matta said during the NCAA tournament when Ohio State reached the Elite Eight but lost to Wichita State.
One of the things that I’m most proud of is the environment we have in our program. What you’re asking is kind of the stick-to-itiveness to see the big picture. It’s not as easy as people think it is.
I’m thinking about when Deshaun came to Ohio State, it was a process. There’s only a small group of those guys that just, boom, go.
Thomas averaged 7.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 14 minutes as a freshman. That ballooned to 15.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 31.4 minutes as a sophomore and 19.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 35.4 minutes last season.
His 1,630 career points are the ninth most in Buckeyes history.
I feel like Deshaun made a sacrifice for the better of his team there, Blackmon said. I feel like he could have played shooting guard or small forward in college.
If you watched him in high school basketball, he did a lot with the ball in his hands and created a lot off the dribble. I would have liked to have seen him play a little bit more like that in college.
He was more of a power forward there, and he was giving up three inches in height right off the bat.
Thomas is projected to go in the second round, if at all, and he said he’s aware that doubts about him relate to his not being a perfect fit for any one position.
I see myself fitting as a great scorer, competing, (having) fun, good character and willing to win in this league. That’s what it’s all about: having great character, winning ballgames and helping your team win, Thomas said.
He added that he has talked to several players, including former Ohio State player and No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden, for advice on handling the draft process.
Thomas believes questions about his size are unfounded because he’s proved he can score, though he concedes he should be a small forward in the NBA.
Everybody knows a guy like me can score and score in different ways. I want to come out here and give the effort and have fun, he said.
Thomas believes he will be drafted, but he’s not going to get stressed out by it either way. He believes there’s a spot for him in the NBA.
It’s going to be exciting, but you’ve got to know what you’re here for and be patient and relaxed, Thomas said.