The face of the the 2011-12 Ohio State men's basketball team is 6'9" sophomore big man Jared Sullinger. Nobody would argue that. That will change for one afternoon this Sunday when Senior Day honors William Buford as the Buckeyes' only senior on the roster before they face the Wisconsin Badgers at 4pm Eastern at the Jerome Schottenstein Center. Many feel as though Jared Sullinger will also take his services to the next level after this season concludes, and that would come as no surprise. But all of our attention shouldn't simply focus on Buford and Sully on Sunday - this could very well be the last time we see DeShaun Thoman take the Value City Arena court wearing our beloved Scarlet and Gray.
Thomas saw spot duty last year as a freshman, often time quickly finding his way to a seat next to Thad Matta due to questionable shot selection and his unwillingness to move the ball. He came out of high school ranked third in career points for the state of Indiana. The kid knows how to put the ball in the basket, and he was out to prove it as a freshman. As he has transitioned into his sophomore season, after seeing former teammates David Lighty and Jon Diebler move on from Ohio State, he's gained a better grasp of his role and the speed of the college game. We still see streaks of selfishness, poor decision making and lack of focus on the defensive end but his offensive tools are undeniable.
For the year Thomas is averaging 14.8 points-per-game while shooting 52.6% from the field, both up from his 7.5ppg and 47.5% shooting as a freshman, but he isn't the offensive focus of a team with two NBA-bound leaders in the starting five. Even that hasn't stopped him from taking over for chunks of time, entire games or even a series of games.
From the middle of November through Christmas DeShaun went on a run of thirteen straight games where he scored in double-digits, capped with a B1G Player of the Week performance in back to back games v USC Upstate at the Schott and a road game against the South Carolina Gamecocks. While Sulinger sat our both with ailments, Thomas went on a two-game run to rival any player in the country.
First, against USC Upstart at home, DeShaun shot 10-for-15 from the field and ended with 23 points en route to 24-point Ohio State win, but that was just a warm-up for what was about to come three days later in Columbia, South Carolina.
In front of a hostile crowd at Colonial Life Arena, with Sullinger exiting early with a foot injury, DeShaun poured in 30 points on just sixteen field goal attempts in leading the Buckeyes to a 74-66 victory over the Gamecocks. Twenty came in the second half after being down four at halftime, including eleven straight points at a key point midway through half to help close out the game.
Just a week ago, in a losing effort up in Ann Arbor, Thomas recorded his first career double-double going for 25 points and 13 rebounds against the Wolverines - scoring nearly half of Ohio State's total output of 51 points.
This brings us to the potential for DeShaun to make the leap to the NBA after closing out his sophomore season about six weeks from now. Is he NBA-ready? Not exactly. Does he have the skill set that will eventually serve him well in the League? Absolutely.
While Thomas at times looks a little awkward and 'clunky' on the offensive end, lacking that effortless flow we see out of a few more refined athletes, there's simply no denying that his offensive talents are far above average when he's zoned in and put into a position to succeed. He's not a guy who can easily get his own shot (not a good look anyway), but at 6'7" 225-pounds he has the body and strength to offensive rebound effectively and find easy baskets by crashing the boards.
His field goal percentage has jumped up 4.5 points from his freshman to sophomore year, part of which has come from better shot selection, his willingness to battle on the offensive boards and an improved long-range shot. He may not be ready for the NBA at this very moment, but all signs say he will be at some point. The kid has been an offensive force ever since setting foot on the court at Bishop Laurs High School in Ft. Wayne, IN - where he averaged 28.9 points-per-game as a freshman (second only behind Eric Gordon who himself found a ticket into the NBA after a short stint with the Hoosiers).
Most would say DeShaun is a year away from entering the NBA as an impact player - and Ohio State fans would hope he were two years away - but the fact of the matter is that these kids with the upside of a DeShaun Thomas often have a tough time passing on the riches of an NBA contract, and who can blame them?The average NBA salary is a bulky $5.15 million annually. The minimum salary for an NBA player? Right around $475,000 annually. I don't know about you but that would be difficult to pass up if you're borderline "ready," and have the tools, to make the leap. It wouldn't be the first time.
Following his 2006-07 freshman year at Ohio State, Daequan Cook made the jump to the professional ranks with Greg Oden and Mike Conley, Jr. With Oden and Conley being the locks to succeed, Cook was in a similar situation as Thomas with proven skills but less-than-proven experience. The odds of Cook seeing success at the next level were probably 50/50 or 60/40 but he saw the opportunity to move on and did so. Oden was drafter first overall - Conley 4th - and Cook 21st after posting just 10.7ppg, 4.5rbs and 1.1 assists as an Ohio State freshman. He's now in his fourth season as an NBA professional and pulling in nearly $2.2 Million per year in base salary - while averaging just 6 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. Would he be having a better fourth season had he stuck around in Columbus for another year or two? Hard to tell.
When push comes to shove you are what you are as far as skill set and potential. There's just as good of a chance of an NBA team developing DeShaun as there is for Thad Matta. In this day and age you see more one-and-done than you do four- of five-year seniors moving on to the NBA (a la Tim Duncan).
If Buford continues to struggle with consistency and Thomas can step up and be the second half of a Sully-Thomas one-two punch over the next month and a half, with all the bright lights shining on Ohio State through the B1G and NCAA tournaments, he's almost a lock to leave for greener pastures. Even if he continues contributing with his current 15 points and 5 rebounds to close out his sophomore season, there's probably a 50/50 shot at best that we see him return for another in Columbus - especially if (when) Sullinger declares for the 2012 NBA Draft.
Are we seeing the last of DeShaun Thomas in Scarlet and Gray? Time will tell. If it's me, I'm watching as if we are.
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