Thomas’ departure leaves a massive leadership void.
Gone is the spokesperson, the face, the weight-bearer for the Washington basketball program.
Isaiah Thomas premature declaration last week he was entering the NBA Draft sucked the guts out of the Huskies.
Physical stature was always a question for Thomas. Depth of soul was not. Sizzled into memory is him diving and disappearing in the corner to save the ball against Arizona in Hec Ed this season, exemplifying his will.
On the road, Thomas was taunted by chants of “Gary Coleman” and other height-related platitudes. He winked at opposing student sections. Often silently hushed them with a finger to the lips. Passed out glares to certain groups.
He could take derision; invited it in fact. Thomas was a student of invention. Not so much with new moves, but new motivation. Someone did something to him. The media, fans, some buffoon on Twitter.
Prior to a road trip, he claimed the teams back was against the wall. Whole world against them. Other cliches.
Prior to a prominent game at home? The same.
Thomas always used we or our when stating who was theoretically held down. But it was just him who was convinced of the restriction.
So departing with his points and assists is his assassins heart. This leaves Washington faceless and perhaps feckless next season in a rebooted Pac-10.
Replacement options come with deficiencies.
Suggs is generally quiet, particularly last season when it would have been fair for him to wonder about his minutes.
Gant is a ham. When reporters were backdropped by clowning teammates in the cramped lockerroom of Charlottes Time Warner Cable Arena, Gant informed that he was able to keep his laughter stalled because hes an actor. One fitted for a supporting role.
Both should be starters. Neither are leaders.
That leaves a lot in the lap of Abdul Gaddy.
Prior to tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament in January, Gaddy was a player the team leaned on. His stonefaced ways were a nice counter to Thomas exuberance.
Before he can lead, he needs to heal. If Thomas were to return, Gaddy could ease back from the bench with Thomas running the point.
That scenario left with Thomas. Gaddy will likely start, forcing him to work back to game speed while in a prominent position.
That doesnt mean Gaddys chance to be the face of the team is out of the question. Its just reduced.
Gaddy will be a junior and spent his injured time examining the game. Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar pointed out nuances for Gaddy to watch for from the bench. The point guard told Sportspress Northwest he could now see the lulls in teammates or their spots of preference.
Then theres Tony Wroten.
Clashes and camaraderie between Wroten and Thomas were anticipated next season. Now, Wroten is staring at an early chance to have strong influence on the mental edge of the team. Its doubtful he, like most freshman, will be able to do so.
His athleticism will dazzle at times. As often, his decision-making will baffle. Romar will have to wrestle with whats inside Wrotens skull. One longtime observer claimed Wrotens ego was equivalent to that of Nate Robinson, Will Conroy, and Thomas combined. Thats hyperbole, but is indicative of the level of challenge managing Wroten and his expansive local brood will present to Romar.
Past successions were clear and anticipated. Jon Brockman was supplanted by Quincy Pondexter, with Thomas trailing just behind. Pondexter took much of the duty, at least with the media, and Thomas was a powerful secondary influence. Then it was Thomas turn.
Prior to this years NCAA Tournament first-round game against Georgia in Charlotte, Thomas did the formal media session on the dais. When he returned to the lockerroom, he was again horseshoed by the media.
Justin Holiday left his cramped locker space and crawled on the floor, positioning his head just behind the calves of the questioners. He produced a variety of faces, similar to former Indiana coach Bobby Knight trying to display what a game face may be.
Thomas per usual gave supreme effort. He ignored Holiday the best he could. Answered questions he already answered.
Once other players began to dance inappropriately, and, in some cases, poorly, behind the floor-bound Holiday, Thomas finally broke. He busted out laughing.
Thomas was in the middle of it all. On, off, around the court. His expansive efforts came with histrionics and spotlight, but also trickled through the lifeline of the team.
There is always a revolving of the leader in college sports. The door is open at Washington. Line forms to the left.