Dec. 12, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – When Chris Thomas was born 20 years and almost six weeks ago, his grandmother gave the future Marshall basketball player a very different – and special – name.
He’s Mistor Christopher Thomas.
“My grandma named me that,” Thomas said, beaming, “because she said it’s a sign of respect.”
Now, Thomas, a sophomore, is trying to earn that respect on the floor for the Thundering Herd (4-5). In high school, he bounced around like, well, a basketball. He was a big-time, five-star prospect who admittedly lost his way.
He’s found himself with the Herd, he said.
“It feel like I’m part of the family here,” said Thomas, who moved into coach Tom Herrion’s starting lineup after four games and takes an 11.4 scoring average into Saturday night’s Capital Classic date with West Virginia (6-4) in the Charleston Civic Center. “I feel like I was brought in, accepted and I got ready to play.”
“This is a nice place for me. I had to learn quickly, too, because we were going to play right away, so I only had a little bit of time to work out and become part of the time. But I’m ready now.”
The 6-foot-5 Thomas is the Herd’s most explosive player, and Herrion calls him “scary fast in the open court.” He played catch-up in the preseason, since the junior college transfer wasn’t around to make the Herd’s five-game exhibition trip to Canada in August.
“Chris is still a work in progress, getting acclimated to the system,” Herrion said. “For him, he’s aggressive by nature, and he’s got to recognize when the right times are to attack and when the wrong times are.”
“I think that’s been a big adjustment for him but he’s getting better at it. He’s had some really good moments like Western Kentucky (27 points, six steals, five rebounds, 12-of-13 at the free throw stripe). It’s a process, but he’s learning and he wants to be a really good player.”
Thomas, a native of Denver, talked before the Herd’s practice Tuesday about attending four high schools (in Colorado, Maryland, Arizona and Connecticut). He didn’t graduate, and headed to Chipola Junior College in Florida, where he got his GED before he could play last season.
“It’s the first time ever he’s been in a situation like this,” Herrion said. “It gives Chris stability, one of the first times in long time for him, and he’s embraced it, really embraced it.”
“It’s really been fun. He’ll tell you it’s the first time he’s had a really stable situation. No disrespect to where he’s been before, but it is what it is.”
Thomas was a one-time commit to Xavier, and signed with Manhattan. Then, after a couple of legal issues, he came to Marshall with three seasons of eligibility remaining.
“I got my degree at Chipola and I had to do that before I could play basketball,” he said. “That helped me. Chipola was a good spot for me. I learned a lot there. Obviously it didn’t work out at four high schools, but I got to Chipola, and made it through and now I’m at Marshall.
“For a second there, I didn’t think I was going to get another opportunity. I was at the house, sitting there waiting for somebody to call me, hoping I could get in school. Marshall called me and they weren’t worried about some things in my background or anything, just wanted me to come here and start a new slate as a player and as person. And I came here and did that and we’re moving forward.”
With Thomas at two-guard running with freshman point man Kareem Canty (18.3 points, 6.7 assists), Herrion has the prospects of a backcourt that can dominate a game. But Thomas said the Herd has to move on without senior forward Elijah Pittman, the team’s leading scorer who was suspended indefinitely earlier this week.
“We’ve had a lot of close losses, but we’re still coming together,” Thomas said. “It’s going to work eventually. We’re going to start playing more together and that’s all we need, a team effort and we can win. We need to win.”
“I just try to do it all for Coach Herrion. He’s given me a chance. I try to make 50-50 balls and I try to do what it takes to win. Whatever you need to do to win, that’s what I’m going to try to do. All I want to do is play hard, win games, help this team be successful.”
“We’re going to be a team here for a little while – we should be – so we need to come together.”
Thomas and Herrion agree that the tailoring of the player’s game continues. Not only has the rangy guard had to fit himself into the team, but he’s had to learn when to pull the reins on his athleticism.
“I had to change my game,” Thomas said. “It’s change-of-pace basketball, because it’s a lot different in JUCO than in Division I. So I had to change my pace, work with what the team’s doing. Don’t try to do too much. Just play basketball. Play basketball and win.”
“I do feel like after (being a bounced-around, 5-star prospect) I have to show people what I can do, show the kind of player I can be. I was given an opportunity, and mostly I want to show people here we can win.”
Thomas said the Capital Classic rivalry with WVU is most important to the Herd as “just another game … what’s important for us now is not who we play, but that we get some wins. We’ve got to go out and play the same game, play defense and play together than it will work.”
Herrion said Thomas’ pure athletic and basketball skills and a plus-factor, but in the right situation.
“For us, what’s most important from him … it’s his ability to score at the right times,” the Herd coach said. “He’s got to be an efficient scorer for us and then he’s got to be a consistent perimeter defender. Because of his athletic ability, he can be that, and he has long arms and really good size for out there.”
The other question from those who have watched Thomas’ play isn’t about his game. It’s about that silver dollar-sized bald patch on the crown of his head.
“Hair loss,” Thomas said smiling. “Just hair loss.”
That’s what happens when you start to mature. That’s part of Thomas’ game, too.