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May 13, 2011 at 6:08 AM

The legacy of Isaiah Thomas

isaiah salutes.JPG
Photo credit: Seattle Times – Dean Rutz
Wrote a story for today’s newspaper that takes a look at the complicated collegiate career of Washington junior Isaiah Thomas.
I say complicated because Thomas has always been difficult to define. He proved to be much more than a little guy who can score. The 5-foot-9 guard also proved he could rebound, defend bigger players and create scoring opportunities for teammates.
Aside from his playing abilities, Thomas gave Washington and identity. Perhaps more than anyone, he deserves credit for restoring the Huskies’ swagger.
Thomas played alongside UW greats Jon Brockman and Quincy Pondexter and yet in many ways the Huskies took on his brash, never-say-die, we-all-we-got personality over the past three years.
With a captivating smile and a flair for the dramatic, Thomas has always been a little bit of a showman who performed awe-inspiring feats with flamboyance. He loved the rapture of the home crowd and enjoyed bantering with opposing fans on the road.
Perhaps at the end of his UW career he learned one of the primary lessons that all great entertainers must learn: Always leave the audience wanting more.

When he arrived in 2008, Washington was coming off a losing season and hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in two years. He was seen as something of a savior for a program that he said had lost its way.
Back then Thomas talked a lot about restoring Washington to its place among the elite teams in the Pac-10. He received the blessings of UW great Nate Robinson and wore the No. 2 jersey. He talked to several former Husky star players who encouraged him to play with the swagger that typified UW’s teams that made three straight NCAA tournament appearances in 2004, ’05 and ’06.
Thomas scored 27 points on 9-of-12 shooting in his first Husky game, an exhibition win against Western Washington. He started 34 of 35 games as a freshman and led the team in scoring with a 15.5 scoring average. The Huskies posted a 26-9 record that season. They lost once at home. They won their first outright Pac-10 title and advanced to the NCAA tournament. Thomas claimed the conference’s Freshman of the Year award and was chosen all-conference second team.
It was an amazing debut.
The encore was just as good. As a sophomore Thomas started ever game and increased his scoring average to 16.9 points per game. He started the season on a tear scoring a career high 30 points against Wright State in the season opener. The next game he drained 4 of 5 three-pointer en route to 23 points. He tallied 21 in the third game, also connecting on four treys. Thomas, who was voted all-conference first team, also finished the season on fire. He averaged 16 points in the three Pac-10 Tournament games while leading UW to a championship. Thomas won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. He also averaged a team best 15.7 points, 6.3 assists and 1.7 steals in three NCAA tournament games while the Huskies advanced to the Sweet 16.
And Thomas saved his best for what proved to be his final season at Washington.
His scoring average dipped slightly to 16.8, but he improved his field goal percentage (44.5 percent) and three-point percentage (34.9). Perhaps his greatest achievement and one of the reasons he decided to enter the NBA draft was proving he could lead a team as a point guard.
Thomas assumed the role in January when Abdul Gaddy suffered a season-ending knee injury. Thomas flourished at times as a point guard. He distributed 213 assists which is second in the UW record books for a single season. He also had at least seven assists in 14 games.
His performance at the 2011 Pac-10 Tournament was legendary. He played all but 90 seconds in three thrilling games the Huskies needed to win. In the first two games, he tallied a double double. In the tournament championship, Thomas finished with 28 points, seven assists and five rebounds. He also drained a game-winning jumper in overtime on a play that is arguably one of the most memorable in history of UW athletics.
He won the tournament’s MOP award again, joining Arizona’s Sean Elliott as the only players to win it twice. Thomas also took all-conference first team honors becoming the fourth Husky to do that three times.
Fittingly Thomas’ UW career ended in the NCAA tournament. He vowed to return the Huskies to prominence. He hoped to carry them a little bit further than Brandon Roy, but that didn’t happen.
Still the Isaiah Thomas era stacks up against any in the history of the program. Under his guidance, the Huskies posted a 76-30 record. It’s the second most wins over a three-year span in the history of UW basketball. Only the 1951-53 teams won more games (77).
Had he returned, Thomas would have likely broken UW’s all-time scoring and assists record. He could have led the Huskies to another conference championship and an unprecedented fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance.
Imagine what those accomplishments might have done for his legacy. Would Thomas had been the greatest Husky ever? We’ll never know.
As it stands, his place in Husky lore is still unclear. Does he rank among the top three all-time greats? Is he in the top five or 10?
Maybe his record speaks for itself.
Three years. Three conference championships. Three NCAA tournament appearances.

Comments | Topics: Abdul Gaddy


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