BY Bob Sherwin 03:42PM 03/09/2011

Thomas: Stop thinking; start playing

Junior point guard needs to get back to his old self in Pac-10 Tournament

Washington point guard Isaiah Thomas needs to be who he is, not someone else for the Huskies to be successful / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The best explanation why the Huskies have had trouble figuring out who they are this season could be the fact that team leader Isaiah Thomas doesn’t know who he is.

Early in the Pac-10 Conference play, Thomas wanted to be the Abdul Gaddy for his team. Now as his team is set to begin the conference tournament, he’s going to be playing the role of friend and teammate Venoy Overton, suspended for the tournament after being charged with the gross misdemeanor of distributing liquor to a minor.

Thomas stepped up his play after starting point guard Gaddy tore his up his knee Jan. 4. In the first nine conference games, he averaged 18.5 points and eight assists, winning conference Player of the Week three times.

But over the last nine conference games, Thomas is averaging 15.1 points and 5.4 assists. He has had three games with more turnovers than assists.

“I’m just trying to figure out what it is why I’m not playing too well the last two, three games,” said. Thomas, the Huskies 5-foot-9 junior point guard.

It has been a bit longer than that, like most of the conference second half as the Huskies have gone 4-5.

“But it’s back to the old Isaiah come Thursday,” Thomas said. “If that means taking over on the defensive end and try to be Venoy or scoring 40, if my team needs me to do whatever, I’m willing to do that,” he added. “It’s the end of the season, it’s March. The team looks to me and I’m going put the team on my shoulders and do whatever I can do to help my team win.”

If the team has looked to him, they haven’t looked too good. He has had long stretches of simply neutral play, in which he doesn’t have much of an impact on the game. Twice over those final nine games, he has scored single digits. He had one seven-turnover game and an one-assist game.

UW Coach Lorenzo Romar has fended off media inquiries over him with “Isaiah is the last person I’m concerned about.”

Then Romar talks about how much his team, more than any game this season, needs to get off to a flying start Thursday against rival Washington State in the Pac-10 Tournament. And he points to Thomas as just the guy to do that.

However, in the past three games – all at home – Thomas hit just 3-of-14 (21.4 percent) from three-point range and overall made 16 of 41 (39 percent).

The fact is, as good as Thomas is, he’s no Gaddy. The Huskies, 10-3 at the time of his injury, were under Gaddy’s steady control. As Romar said, he had a calming influence on the team despite its uptempo style.

Thomas is the opposite. Ain’t nothing tranquil about his game. He pushes it at every opportunity and at times goes too fast.

Thomas also is not nearly the defender that Overton is. Back in November after the Huskies thrashed Eastern Washington, 98-72, Eagles Coach Kirk Earlywine said Overton “is the best defender in the country.”

Overton is a specialist. His trademark is defense. He likes being a pest. That’s not Thomas’ style. He an good defender but not at Overton’s level.

Thomas can do many things well but he can’t be all fallen teammates to everyone.

There are those who believe that picking up the slack for Gaddy wore Thomas down. He says “I’m not tired.” Romar denies it as well. They both say he can play 40 minutes, if necessary.

Some have said that the defenses have adjusted to him. Opponents know he’s the guy that makes the team work so they’ve double teamed him or have tried to take away the pick and roll. That may be the case but insists he can adjust to any adjustments. Other players such as Washington State’s Klay Thompson, Arizona’s Derrick Williams and USC’s Nikola Vucevic has managed to thrive while being the opponents’ focus.

This past Sunday night, Thomas may have had a breakthrough he needed. He has been thinking about what has gone wrong over the past couple weeks when suddenly it dawned on him – he has been thinking.

“I’m thinking too much,” he said. “It’s like in my mind I’m like a freshman, looking to the bench every play, if I’m doing good or bad. I’m the coach on the floor as the point guard, I just need to play basketball and not think about anything else but winning.”

When Thomas plays at his best – as we saw last season when the Huskies won nine in a row, including the Pac-10 Tournament – is when he has a chip on his shoulder. When people doubt his ability, when his team is disparaged, that’s bring out the grit. That’s the Isaiah Thomas that needs to emerge this week, the underdog, the fighter.

“We got to respond positively,” he said. “Our backs are against the wall again. Gaddy’s down. Tyreese Breshers went down at the beginning of the year. It’s been rough season, up and down. But we’re not giving up.”

Personnel has been dinged. Breshers had a injury to end his career. Gaddy had an injury to end his season. Overton was charged with a crime to end his participation. And senior guard Justin Holiday has a concussion that may prevent him from facing the Cougars.

Now Thomas can’t be thinking that he’s going to be Justin Holiday for his team. He can’t be thinking at all.


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