ROSEMONT, Ill. — Deshaun Thomas had an NCAA tournament to remember.
The Ohio State forward, a Bishop Luers graduate, averaged 19.2 points and 7.6 rebounds in five games as the Buckeyes reached the Final Four. Thomas’ performances created buzz about him possibly declaring himself eligible for the NBA draft.
But Thomas decided to return to Ohio State for his junior season.
“Me coming back, it was for school, for getting better at what I can do and for everyone to see me in the scarlet and gray to fulfill my dreams,” Thomas said last month at Big Ten media day.
Some of those goals include helping the Buckeyes to a Big Ten crown and a trip to the national title game.
Ohio State is ranked No. 4 in The Associated Press preseason men’s basketball poll. And Thomas is a big reason why.
The 6-foot-7 Thomas was named a preseason All-American and also gained a spot on the preseason All-Big Ten team.
“I think the light is on for him in terms of what he has to do to be a fully effective player,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.
“The biggest thing that I have seen is he now has such a better understanding of the game of basketball and knowing that there is a lot of different ways that he can affect the game – rebounding (and) his defense.
“I’ve been pleased with what he’s done defensively in practice thus far. The other thing is the overall mindset of he understands his teammates, he understands the system that we’re trying to implement better and how he fits in. It’s been amazing to see his attitude, just his leadership that he has provided for these guys.”
Thomas has embraced that leadership role.
“When I was young, everything came easy,” he said. “You have to grow up. By me working out and meeting the right people, it helped me a lot by becoming better and getting better at what I do.
“I improved a lot. Body-wise, maturity-wise and leadership-wise and skill-wise – I worked hard on those things. My freshman year, I’d probably be the quietest guy. I’ve become a leader and the man I can be.”
Thomas averaged 15.9 points and 5.4 rebounds last year on the way to earning a spot on the coaches’ All-Big Ten second team. His teammates say he’s improved in other ways as well.
“He’s going to have better understanding for the little things of the game that add up to big things at the end – extra passes, getting a teammate an open shot, defensive rebounds, playing good on-ball defense, things like that that have just made him a better all-around player,” Ohio State guard Aaron Craft said.
The Buckeyes have won at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title in both of Thomas’ seasons. He’s going to do all he can to make it 3 for 3.
“My team and for me, I just a want to be the best player I can be, the best leader and best person I can be,” he said. “Our goal is to come together and to try to win the Big Ten again.”