Everybody knows that Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas went on a tear during last year’s NCAA Tournament.
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But only a few people knew at the time what was driving Thomas during OSU’s run to the Final Four in New Orleans.
Last March, there were some cryptic Tweets from Thomas’ teammates and friends that “something special” had just happened for @DT1UpNComin (Thomas’ Twitter handle). When asked about it during interview sessions at the NCAA East Regional in Boston, Thomas declined comment.
But it was revealed on this week’s edition of The Journey, Big Ten Network’s critically acclaimed weekly documentary, that Thomas’ son, Deshaun Leroy Thomas Jr., was born on the morning of March 22, 2012. (Click here to check out this week’s episode of The Journey. Also check out Thomas’ comments on his son in the video above.)
Later that same day, Thomas had one of his best games as a Buckeye. He scored 20 of his 24 points in the first half and also had six rebounds as OSU turned back instate rival Cincinnati 81-66 in a regional semifinal game. Thomas was as good as he’s ever been in that game, scoring in just about every conceivable way.
He admits that he regrets not being with his son on the day he was born, but he said he could not risk missing that game.
“It was kind of hard,” Thomas said. “The mother was kind of sad about it. But she knew. She understands what it takes and what the business side of it is. I had to go out there and perform for him. I know one day when he gets to talking and asks that question, ‘Dad, were you there?’
“I’ll be like, ‘I was there in spirit, but I had a great game against Cincinnati. It was all for you.’ ”
That game was a part of one of the great NCAA Tournament runs for a player in recent memory. Through the first four games, Thomas averaged 21.8 points and 8.5 rebounds.
Thomas and the Buckeyes lock up with Michigan tonight
That run was the launching point for Thomas into a junior season where he has lived up to the hype as a preseason All-American. Thomas has upped his scoring average from 15.9 points per game last year to 20.0 going into tonight’s match-up at No. 3 Michigan. He also leads OSU in rebounding at 6.2 per game.
Thomas is one of three players nationally averaging more than 20 points and six rebounds. The others are Creighton’s Doug McDermott and VMI’s Stan Okoye. At Ohio State, the last to do so were Evan Turner in 2009-10 and Michael Redd in 1997-98.
In the episode of The Journey, Thomas is shown with his son. Above his crib hangs a sign that says, “Future Buckeye No. 1.”
“He looks just like me,” Thomas said. “The best thing about him is he’s a happy baby. When you have a son, you have somebody who is looking up at you. You have to watch what you’re doing.
“It’s a lot of pressure. But, then again, when you see him smile that’s the best thing. It keeps you motivated. I’m just blessed to have him.”
Thomas said he had a chance to watch The Journey episode after he and his teammates returned from Nebraska late Saturday night.
“I liked it,” Thomas said. “It shed a tear in my eye as I was watching it. I got back home (from Nebraska) at 1 a.m. and I had it recorded. It was a great show.”
Thomas recalled what was going through his mind as he was in Boston last March.
“I always told myself at the time, ‘No pressure,’ ” he said. “I always went to bed at night and said there was no pressure. It was hard to think about it. But we were making a run to the Final Four. It was a blessing. Against Cincinnati, he was born and I had a big game. I was happy. I told myself I was going to be happy and there was no pressure.
“I said, ‘You have a beautiful son coming into your life.’ It was all motivation.”
Thomas said he had a good support system around him.
“Really, it was just family members – my mom, my dad – and friends close to me and my teammates,” he said. “Jared (Sullinger) and Jordan (Sibert) were keeping my head up and telling me to stay strong. When we were at the hotel, I told Will (Buford) and Jordan he was born.
“They were like, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s OK. I know you want to be there, but we have what we’re working for now.’ ”
Thomas had a chance after the regional to return home and see his son for the first time.
“After we beat Syracuse, I went home and he was there,” Thomas said. “I got to see how little he was. It really changed me and brightened my eyes. You have to work even harder for somebody in your life to eat and live.”
OSU coach Thad Matta talked about how Thomas handled that situation and how he has matured in his three years in the program.
“Deshaun has obviously blossomed as a person from where he started from day one here to where he is now,” Matta said. “I know the parenting situation is something he takes very seriously. We have had minor discussions about it. His life is a little bit different now than it is for most college guys. I’m proud of how he has handled the whole situation.”
Thomas has reached 20 or more points in six of nine Big Ten Conference regular season games. He reached 20 or more in the first five games of the league season, a first since Jim Jackson had five-game 20-point scoring streaks during both his junior (1992) and sophomore (1991) seasons. The last Ohio State player with a string of 20-plus scoring games in six or more league games was Dennis Hopson, who amazingly reached at least 20 points in 17-consecutive Big Ten games to end the 1987 season.
The last Ohio State player to score more than 20 points in five-consecutive games was Michael Redd, who posted a streak of nine-consecutive 20+ scoring games during his freshman season in 1997-98. Thomas has scored 20 or more in 11 games this season and in 23 career games
In the last week, Thomas was up (scoring 25 points on 10 of 17 shooting against Wisconsin) and down (15 points on 6 of 18 shooting, including 0 for 4 on threes).
“At Nebraska, I didn’t shoot it really well but there will be games like that,” Thomas said. “Shooters sometimes go 0 for 10, but I always find a way to score. I got a couple and-ones.”
This is one of the best seasons for Big Ten basketball in recent memory and the competition for conference honors will be tough. But Thomas, Michigan’s Trey Burke, Indiana’s Cody Zeller and maybe one or two others will be considered for the league’s player of the year honor.
“I want to be the Big Ten player of the year,” Thomas said. “It’s something that has always been my dream.”
Click here for our preview of tonight's OSU-Michigan game (9 p.m., ESPN), with a ton of analysis and a couple of predictions.
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