Michael Periatt/ Asst. sports editor
He’s not yet the college basketball superstar fellow Ohio State sophomore forward Jared Sullinger is, and not quite the basketball fundamentalist OSU sophomore point guard Aaron Craft is.
But a year after having to come off the bench as he watched the two other freshmen start, OSU sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas is sharing at least one thing with Sullinger and Craft – the limelight.
Thomas scored a season-high 23 points Wednesday night during a game in which OSU trailed South Carolina-Upstate with 5:30 left in the first half.
When asked after OSU’s 82-58 victory over USC Upstate if he felt like he was really hitting his stride, Thomas hesitated.
“Um, I mean …” Thomas said with a shrug and pause.
“Yes!” Sullinger interrupted definitively with a grin.
Thomas was more humble than his teammate in explaining his progress.
“It’s all that mindset. As a player, you have to have a mindset each and every game. Have your mind ready to play,” Thomas said. “I think I’m growing off that, you know? Having my mind set each and every game and being out there and knocking down shots and helping my teammates win.”
Thomas posted big numbers on offense at times last year. He scored 24 points, his career high, in last season’s opener and his NCAA debut against North Carolina A&T.
“Last year, I was a scorer. And as a freshman, you want to be at that spot. You wanted to get the minutes you deserve,” Thomas said speaking of his style of play from a year ago.
This year, he’s looking to become more of a complete basketball player. He cited former teammate and Big Ten All-Defensive Team member from a year ago David Lighty as an inspiration to his progress on the defensive side of the ball.
“Last year, I wasn’t so talkative, so that’s kind of what my focus was on, talking more on defense,” Thomas said. “Lighty, he was always screaming and yelling and just saying something and it pays off.”
His superstar teammate has taken notice.
“If he’s playing well on offense, it always carries over to defense with Deshaun,” Sullinger said. “Deshaun, for the longest (time) was known as just an offensive threat. Now he’s starting to become a defensive threat as well.”
It doesn’t stop with defense for Thomas. He recognized that, as a freshman, he developed a reputation as a player who didn’t see many shots he didn’t want to take.
“I’m getting in the right spot and knocking (shots) down,” Thomas said. “And making great passes too. People were like, ‘Can that guy pass?’ So I’m passing real well too.”
But despite his growth both offensively and defensively, OSU coach Thad Matta said he has seen the most growth in Thomas’ mental game.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen in Deshaun is just his maturity,” Matta said Wednesday. “It’s funny – everybody thinks this game is just about being out there playing, but the mental side of things is just as important in my mind and Deshaun has started to grasp that.”
Thomas said he feels no pressure to have to go out and create shots, adding that the team wants to go to “who’s hot” on the offensive end.
For Thomas, developing his individual game is a stride toward helping his team reach its objective each time it takes the court.
“We’re all a team here,” he said. “I’ll do anything for the team to get a win.”
Thomas and the Buckeyes will next take the court in a non-conference road game against South Carolina. Tip-off is set for noon Saturday.