It’s not a sprawling city, nor the mecca of all things urban where Washington’s diminutive and demonstrative point guard Isaiah Thomas grew up. No, I’m guessing Tacoma, Wash., with its evergreens – the Western Hemlock is the state tree, and yes, I looked that up – and mountainous skyline doesn’t have the same hoops culture as New York City.
But that indeed is where the point guard who’s the closest thing to the Bronx’s Kemba Walker grew up. Thomas, dubbed a “little monster” by Arizona head coach Sean Miller, brings a dangerous No. 7 seed Washington Husky squad into the NCAA Tournament with gusto. The team just might be as underrated as their pint-sized leader.
“Isaiah Thomas, it’s not even close, there’s not one player in the country that’s more disrespected across the nation than him. Not one,” Miller said in February, after Arizona lost to the Huskies. “If he’s not one of the top four or five point guards in the country, then I want to tell these guys who vote to come and watch film.”
Since then, Miller’s perception of Thomas probably hasn’t changed. At the Pac-10 Tournament last weekend, Thomas hit a game-winner in overtime against Miller’s Arizona squad, but there’s more to him than self-confidence, swagger and desire.
Thomas breathes Husky basketball, and the generously listed 5-9 point guard is the heart and soul of his team. Such labels often go to players who have the biggest box scores and largest egos, but Thomas is different. His confidence and control radiates, permeates and whatever-else-iates throughout the Husky locker room.
It was Thomas who hit the game-winning shot in the Pac-10 title game, but it was two assists in the final minute of regulation that gave two freshman teammates open three-pointers to rally the Huskies.
“One of our timeouts,” said Husky forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning, “Isaiah was just talking to us before the coaches came in, talking about … ‘I’m giving the ball up. I believe in you guys.'”
That’s a player with 100 percent attention from his teammates. That’s a player that can will his team to victory without doing it all himself.
Thomas has that supernatural knack of when to score and when to pass, too. I’ve watched every ebb and flow of three Huskies’ games this season; every one of those turns came at the hands of the “little monster.” Sometimes it’s scoring 19 in a half (he did that against Arizona in the title game). Other times it’s penetrating and kicking to his teammates.
“I score in bunches, so I’m really not worried about scoring,” Thomas said after the Pac-10 title game. “I was just worried about making plays for my teammates.”
And with the game tied and the Huskies with the final possession in the conference title game’s overtime, Thomas ignored head coach Lorenzo Romar‘s plea for a timeout. Then, he waved off one of his teammates’ screens.
Everyone in the building knew what was going on. Nobody on the court for Arizona could stop it. Step-back jumper. Buzzer sounds. Nothing but net. Washington victory. It reminded you of Walker, who is one of the favorites in the National Player of the Year race.
“When it came down to it, when I needed to score, I did,” Thomas said. “I just took a step back, and God made the ball go into the hoop.”
Early last season, Miller called Jimmer Fredette one of the best point guards in the nation before anyone else knew what “getting Jimmered” even meant. In February, after Arizona got beat down in Seattle, Miller went on a rant.
It wasn’t about how his team played, either. Two minutes of the brief five-minute long interview was about the so-called “little monster.”
“In my opinion, if you name Kemba Walker and you name Jimmer Fredette, and certainly those two guys deserve all the accolades, he’s right there with those guys,” Miller said. “How he’s playing and what he means to Washington, it’s important to what you have to deal with when you play these guys is that little monster. I mean that in the most positive way because he’s so controlling on the offensive end, you’re just at his mercy.”
So when watching these games, be weary of that “little monster.” He and his Huskies might surprise you. And I’m not talking about Kemba Walker.
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