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November 19, 2009 at 5:02 PM

Isaiah Thomas unplugged

Photo credit: AP PHOTO – Ted S. Warren
Admit it, you’ve overlooked the little guy.
In our online poll earlier this week, 3,104 people responded and only 5 percent (155) picked Isaiah Thomas when asked which player surprised you the most this weekend?
While everyone’s been captivated by the resurgence of Quincy Pondexter, the emergence of Scott Suggs, Justin Holiday’s newfound three-point shot or Matthew Bryan-Amaning’s strong interior play, you yawned while Thomas dropped a career-high 30 points in the opener and followed that with 23 and 21 points. As if scoring 74 points in three games is run of the mill.
But here’s the thing, the Freshman of the Year is better than he was a year ago when he was the best player on the best team in the Pac-10.
Here’s our story. It’s an interesting read with insight from the Wright State and Belmont coaches.
In an wide-ranging interview below, Thomas talks about what’s changed in his game. He says he’s always learning from teammates and he’s established a network of past, present and potentially future NBA guards who he texts and talks to regularly, including his namesake.
(What’s going on with you this year?) “I’m playing a lot better, more under control. I’m just more mature. I know what to expect in the college game. It’s something I’ve worked on all summer. Especially shooting. Overall just being patient and letting the game come to me.
(How are you better?) “Just the work I’ve put in. It feels like it’s a little easier out there just playing against the guys. Always shooting and getting a lot of reps in. Just being more mature and knowing what to expect out there. Knowing what people are going to come at you with different kinds of defenses. Knowing where your teammates are. Trying to get everybody involved. Trying to win.
(Do you think you’re being overlooked?) “I won’t say that I’m being overlooked. We’re winning. And people I guess expect this out of me. I expect it out of myself. It’s not a big deal if people overlook me they’ll find out sooner or later. As long as we’re winning and people are having fun and we’re playing hard I’m all for it.

(Where did this rebounding come from?)
“I feel like with (Jon) Brockman gone, we need help somewhere. With me, I can always get the long rebound and stuff like that. I told coach, if he let me crash the offensive boards I’d probably average about seven this year. But he’s not letting me do that.”
(You had seven against seven against Belmont.) “Yeah. I can get at least two more if he’d let me crash, but he’s not letting me do that.”
(What part of your game has improved the most?)

“Probably my defense. Going to camps this summer and talking to a lot of NBA dudes, that’s a big part of being there. Even though I’m small you got to be feisty out there and always in somebody’s grill. I learn a lot from Venoy (Overton). I ask him questions about defense. I’m just trying to get better overall. So I got better most with my defense and getting in a guy and just being able to keep him in front of me.”
(What type of a defender where you last year?) “So-so. I was alright.”
(How so?) “I just got by. I wasn’t really a liability, but I wasn’t what I should be. And this year I’m focusing more on stopping guys and stopping good guards. Just getting into my guy and being a pest out there on the defensive end like I am on the offensive end.
(Who did you talk to the most this summer?) “I went to Chris Paul’s camp. Talked to him. Deron Williams’ camp. I always talk to Isiah Thomas and Damon Stoudamire. People like that. People that are in the position that I want to be in. Small guards like Damon Stoudamire. I pattern my game after him.”
(What does Isiah tell you?) “Be a killer. You got to always have that mentality to go out there to work the hardest and be the best. Every since I met him he always said he’s my biggest fan and he feels like the sky’s the limit so I got to have that same type of confidence.”
(Did you see him this summer?) “Nah. I talk to him probably every couple of days. We text. We got a close relationship. I met him last season during the season. I kind of knew him and he knew of me through Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson, but I met him down at the UCLA game and he met my mom and things like that. I’ve been in close contact with him. Coach (Lorenzo) Romar played with him. He’s a great dude.”
(And Chris Paul?) “I went to his camp in August. He was actually on my team. He worked out with the campers and we when scrimmaged he was on my team and I was lucky I didn’t have to guard him. But he gave me a lot of tips especially about being small and being fast. Like things in transition. Nobody can really guard that’s really fast in transition and that’s where you get your easy buckets at.
(You get compared to Nate Robinson, but you’re nothing like Nate.) “I’m nothing like him. Like I tell these dudes, if Nate was 6-8, he’d be the next Lebron (James). He’s just not real. You can’t really pattern your game after somebody that does a lot of things great. So I pattern myself after new guys like Chris Paul, guys like Damon Stoudamire. Guys like that.”

(How often do you talk with Damon?)
“At least once a week.”

(It sounds like you’ve got his network of all-star guards at your fingertips.)
“They’re always in my ear. I’m always in their ear trying to learn something new and get better.”
— The Spartan Daily, San Jose State’s campus newspaper, has this story on Adrian Oliver, who returns to Washington tomorrow. Oliver calls UW coach Lorenzo Romar “a father figure.”

Comments | Topics: Scott Suggs, UCLA


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