Tank Up

By Sarah on April 13, 2012 at 1:00p
He thinks he can, he thinks he can, he thinks he can...shoot. He'll be back. 

When Deshaun Thomas signed his letter of intent with Ohio State, it was easy to assume that he'd wear a label all too familiar with Buckeye fans: one and done. He seemed to fit the mold of a player who would treat college as a short detour on his road to NBA glory1

As part of a highly-rated 2010 recruiting class for Ohio State, Thomas was a five-star McDonald's All-American. Not only had he won the Indiana Mr. Basketball award during his senior year, but he also finished his career with 3,018 points, landing him third on Indiana high school basketball's all-time scoring list.

In and of itself, that is quite the accomplishment. For that to happen in the Hoosier state, where basketball is as prevalent as plasma in the bloodstream of its residents, was remarkable and an unsubtle hint to the Buckeyes that they were getting a gunner with a quicker release than Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens2.

The 2010 season opener, a matchup against North Carolina A&T, was the first time Deshaun took the court for the Scarlet and Gray, his uniform proudly displaying #1, as if foreshadowing his performance that night. Coming off the bench, he led all scorers with 24 points. The end result may have been a blowout win for the Bucks, but Thomas' game suggested that his early entrance to the NBA was inevitable.

After all, in three of the previous four seasons, at least one freshman had left Ohio State for the pros. The forward could have been Thad Matta's sixth one-and-done player. 

Instead, it turned out to be Thomas' highest-scoring game of his freshman season. That's not to imply that he was a disappointment or put together an unsuccessful first year. Compared to classmates Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft, though, Thomas was not an immediate star. 

His minutes fluctuated, as did his scoring. A highlight was a February contest against Indiana in which he posted 22 points on 7/9 for shooting. Nevertheless, in two of the biggest games—the Big Ten Tournament final and the loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen—Thomas was nearly invisible, seeing the floor for only two minutes and three minutes, respectively, and failing to score in either. 

Thomas finished out the 2010-11 season averaging 14 minutes per game along with 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds. Those are respectable numbers for a freshman, even if they didn't meet expectations, perhaps no more so than the ones Deshaun had for himself. 

While he was not the National Freshman of the Year like Sullinger or the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year like Craft, Thomas was able to accomplish a feat his teammates did not. In ten words, he described his essence with a brevity that Shakespeare would commend:

"Tank. Thomas the Tank. Can't stop the Tank from shooting."

The nickname only confirmed the reputation—if sometimes exaggerated—that he had earned. Tank did not want to pass the ball or try to lock down his opponent. Rather, it was like he was constantly trying to beat his personal record at the NBA Hoops Arcade Basketball Game.  

For Matta, a coach who encourages shooting but also emphasizes smart shot selection and defense, it made sense that DT's minutes diminished toward the end of the season. It was also clear that the NBA would have to wait. 

As a sophomore, Thomas started every game while maintaining his Tank-esque love for taking shots. In the first part of the season, he would often hit double figures but was also inconsistent, a trait he would share with his team as a whole. He notched a then career-high of 30 points against South Carolina and two weeks later, he only managed five points in a loss to Indiana, a season-low effort that spoiled the return to his home state.

When Michigan State ended Ohio State's 39-winning streak at the Schott, Thomas could not buy a bucket, going 2/12 for 8 points, his second-lowest output. On the defensive end, he struggled to contain Draymond Green. 

And yet, from that moment on, something seemed to click with Deshaun. Whereas a year ago, his production declined, this season, the opposite happened.

Until the final game of the season, he reached double figures in every matchup and turned from an effective rebounder to one who cleaned the glass with reckless abandon. In less than a month, he went from boasting zero career double-doubles to three. 

Even Tank's defense was gaining respect. Matta admitted that he had previously referred to him as "Shaun" for the lack of "D" in his game and by March, the coach said, "I've gone back to calling him Deshaun." He was finally becoming a complete player. 

The rest of the Buckeye team soon followed his example and started playing more soundly and steadily. As a result, they earned a share of the Big Ten title, a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and eventually, a trip to the Final Four. 

None of that would have been possible without Thomas coming on like he did. At times, he carried Ohio State. In the first three rounds of the Tourney, he was the top scorer for the team, including a career best3 of 31 points against Loyola.  

That was fine with his fellow Bucks. After he led the way with 24 points in a victory over Cincinnati, which ensured the Scarlet and Gray a longer postseason run than the previous year, Craft told the press, "Once he gets going, it's tough to stop him. If he's having a good night, you just try to ride him."

His play had elevated so much in a month and a half that many thought it indicated he would declare for the NBA Draft. To them, this was Thomas' last hurrah and his chance to leave college a winner and sell himself as a more desirable prospect for pro teams.

Apparently, Deshaun only takes pictures in which he's yelling, yawning, or trying to eat an invisible sandwich.Thomas & Friends

Unfortunately, a meeting with Kansas in the Final Four brought back the Deshaun who was a streaky shooter and struggled on defense. In foul trouble for most of the evening, he was only in the game for 23 minutes and connected on just 3/14 for 9 points. Up until then, he had been averaging almost 22 points during the Tournament. 

As went Tank, so went the Buckeyes.

His sophomore season completed, Thomas' stats had greatly improved from a year ago. He averaged 31.4 minutes, 15.9 points, and 5.4 rebounds per game. The question now was whether that was good enough for the NBA. 

One week ago, Thomas made his announcement. But unlike his (former) teammate Jared Sullinger, there were no cameras around, no microphone in front of his face, no family members sitting by his side. 

Instead, he issued a statement that read, "My family, my coaches and I looked at my future as a professional but I love being a Buckeye and want to continue my education and development as a player and as a person at Ohio State."

Once viewed as a one-year player in college, Deshaun Thomas let it be known that he'd be around for a junior season

Granted, a third year might not have come to fruition if he had been projected higher than a fringe first-rounder. But his return should benefit both Thomas and Ohio State. Another year, particularly one where he can be the centerpiece of the offense, can help his draft stock. And as the top scorer coming back for the Buckeyes, Tank gives them a proven offensive threat.

That's especially significant because the Big Ten should once again be as brutal to survive as the Hunger Games. Based on early predictions, Indiana will likely start off the season ranked #1 while Michigan is expected to be a preseason top 10 or even top 5 team. With Thomas joining Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. as returning starters, Ohio State is considered top 10 caliber yet again.   

Still, it depends on how Tank adjusts to life as a leading man. He could take the route traveled by Evan Turner, who emerged during his sophomore season and was able to carry that momentum into stardom the following year.

Matta would certainly prefer the same for Thomas, expressing, “The great thing is the jump he made from year one to year two. That's what excites me about getting him back for year three."

Or, it's possible that like William Buford, he's more comfortable in a supporting role. Without Sullinger, his front court partner-in-crime, Thomas may not be as effective. How Sullinger's replacements develop will also factor into DT's production. If they can step up, then Tank might get his wish of moving to small forward, the position he plans to play at the next level. 

For someone who confessed, "I love to score. I'm sorry"4, it's impossible to imagine he will ever stop trying to put points on the board. 

The hope of the Ohio State fan base is that he'll become the engine that makes the team run, requiring Thomas to slightly alter his motto from "Can't stop the Tank from shooting" to "Can't stop the Tank from scoring."

  • 1 I'm not criticizing players who take a "wham bam thank you ma'am" approach to college basketball. Each guy has to do what's in his own best interest, even if the system is flawed. 
  • 2 If you are interested in watching Raylan's shootings from the first two seasons of Justified, here you go. Violence warning, obvs. 
  • 3 In college that is. I'm sure his past contains a Wilt Chamberlain game. 
  • 4 First of all, everyone already knew this, and second of all, he is not sorry, though I think we can forgive him for the insincere apology.  

Comments Show All Comments

SEC BUCKEYE's picture

I think thomas averages 25 a game next season...Ohio State will have another final four team, Indiana will be great, Michigan I have a feeling will be a bust, you can never count out Sparty, Wisconsin will always be tough but I worry who will lead their Offense. 

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

RB's picture

25 a game would be rather impressive.  Big Ten scoring leader is usually at 20 max.  I don't think anyone has gone for much more than 21 ppg in the last 10 year sor so.  ET was national player of the year w/ around 20 ppg (6 apg and 9 rpg didn't hurt the cause).  I hope you are right though, that would be a ridiculous season, especially if the team ends up being highly competetive.

dr green's picture

LOL to the "invisible sandwich."

Matt's picture

While we lose Sully/Buford's offense, and that will impact how open DT can get for shot selection purposes, I also think we will improve on defense, which will lessen the burden on DT to play hardcore defense at the 4 spot.  The weakside help of Thompson and Williams, in terms of blocking/altering shots, is going to do wonders for DT's defense because he knows that he has people backing him up at the rim.  With Sully on the floor, we haven't protected the rim for the better part of the past two years (with the exception of Dallas's limited minutes in 2010), so our defense will have a whole new look in 2012.  Everyone knew that Sully would give up any layup in the second half of a game to stay on the court and score at the other end, which was the right play.  That trend is going to end with Thompson/Williams on the floor.  And on the offensive end, I think we are going to see teams double DT off of Thompson or Williams, and from there it'll turn into lob city to Thompson/Williams.

SEC BUCKEYE's picture

Ohio State will be more up tempo next year..You saw flashes of this when Sully was on the bench. Now we have a chance to perfect that style on offense along with IMO a tougher defense next year. Loss of Sully is huge but I believe Tank is more than able to carry the offensive load on his shoulders especially with the athleticism that will be used. I see a better Ohio State team next year capable of winning it all.

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

RedStorm45's picture

Tony Parker or Alex Oriakhi would be a huge get to fill the PF spot.  I'm not too confident in Ravenel, Spoon, or McDonald to play the 4 for 25+ minutes a night.  If we don't land anybody, I can see Thomas out of necessity playing the 4, but Matta/Jent opening up the offense more like we saw with Craft/Lighty/Diebler/Buford or Turner/3 guards surrounding either Lauderdale or Sully.  He definitely needs to improve his ball handling skills and passing.

Was a little surprised by his decision, but I can understand why.  He's had almost no time at the 3 and is way too undersized to play the 4.

pcon258's picture

dt is an interesting guy, its nice to have him back for his junior year. i think ravenel and maybe amir will step up next year, which *hopefully* will open up some shots for thomas

Lost nut in Michigan's picture

This will seem odd to some, but I am thinking addition, by subtraction. Next years team will be better than this years.


Go Bucks

Lost Nut in Michigan

buckeyechad's picture

No offense but I'd be prepared to be disappointed if I were you. I don't think addition by subtraction works with a 2 time all american big man.

Squirrel Master's picture

I believe he might be referring to Willie Buford more than Sullinger. Obviously Sullinger is a big lose. Buford, although I liked him alot, probably should have been supplanted by someone. But that is the past, this year I feel will be a more rounded team. With a leader like Craft, I defintely don't see a big drop off on defense and outside of losing Sullinger, the offense should be much better all around.

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

RedStorm45's picture

A defensive lineup of Craft, Smith, Thompson, Ravenel, and Williams would be ridiculous.  Even Tank was upping his D late in the season so I think we'll be very solid on the end...perhaps even better than this past year??

Buckeye in Illini country's picture

I agree.  I think both Sullinger and Buford are big losses.  I know Willie gave us headaches at times, but I also think he was the 2nd/3rd most important player on the offense.  To lose the 1 and 3 (and not gain much in return other than experience for thompson/ scott, who cannot shoot) is huge.

Columbus to Pasadena: 35 hours.  "We're on a road trip through the desert looking for strippers and cocaine... and Rose Bowl wins!"

Squirrel Master's picture

I don't know about gaining much in return. From what I know, Ross might very well be an upgrade from Buford in regards to talent. Or if Tony Parker does come, then I know for a fact Thomas would be an upgrade over Buford.

Front court last year: Buford, Thomas, Sullinger

Possible front court this year #1: Ross, Thomas, Williams

Possible front court this year #2: Thomas, Parker, Williams

Outside of Williams replacing Sullinger, I think either one would be an upgrade as a whole.

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

Squirrel Master's picture

Not sure if Tony Parker is coming over or not but I am making my statement as if he doesn't.

Hopefully Amir takes over at center and shows us what we have seen in glimpses. If that is the case, I think thomas can stay at the 4 spot and let Ross or Thompson battle for the 3. Just because Thomas is labeled as the 4 man doesn't mean he has to play that way this year. Last year was based on the situation because Sully was playing out of position at the 5. Now with a true center, OSU can have 4 athletes as movable parts around him just like someone stated previously. Plus I see Ross as a large SF who could switch back and forth with Thomas. If Ross can make the next step into the starting lineup, he and Thomas could be a nasty combo both being able to post up or step out to the arc. Defensively this team plays as a team but offensively, once Craft brings the ball into the half court, thomas and Ross could play the 2 man game and take advantage. This is something I think was lacking this year until late when Thomas and Sully started doing it. It was supposed to be Buford and Sully but with Sully out of position and Buford going through his troubles, it didn't happen. I truly believe Thomas and Ross could easily be that combo.

Almost makes me not want to see Parker come. then again, Parker would allow Thomas to go more to his natural SF spot and we could be looking at a formidable front court to go along with that nasty Craft/Smith duo. I hate seeing Sully leave but I don't mind looking to the future for this team.

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

Maestro's picture

Is Tank Up akin to getting tanked?  If so, yes ma'am Sarah.

vacuuming sucks

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

Getting tanked? Is that a 11W dry goods tshirt idea you're floating?

ScottS's picture

I gotta say, I think Tank is awesome. He's been my favorite player for quite a while, and I love to see players talk about coming back in part to develop as a person. thanks for the article about him.

Idaho Helga's picture

I think we all know what the Tank SHOULD BE capable of next year. The question is of Amir's prospects. And I think we shall all be asking later why he didn't play more LAST YEAR. Now, I won't be one of those screaming that we lost to KU because he excells next year and didn't play a minute, but I think he is one of those who could shine in fall 2012. Jes' sayin'.

And there is a lot more talent on the bench. We'll see who shows up. I actually think we're going to be pleasantly surprised but I agree that Indiana is in the drivers seat. They have a lot of talent and more coming in the door.

Calipari isn't a dummy and is recruiting as an NBA farm team. Not a bad angle when you think of it with KY's historical and recent level of talent. I guess this gets back to DJ's article (which I generally agree with). Unfortunately there is only room in America for 1 or maybe 2 KY's because the frosh who can go to the next level successfully is really that low a number (10,12 kids nationally total). The failure rate while I have no stats I have to think is pretty high.

I believe I've seen a few articles on 1-n-done failure rates but if someone here had that or a link it would be interesting. Its hard to measure when so many go to Europe and a few come back here and then do well after the Euro trip fo 2-5 yrs. Any you are makin'money in Europe.

LVbucksNV's picture

Deshaun will deliver, we need scoring, and the other players r ready to step up. It takes aggressiveness, which Buford lacked.


RB's picture

This is my thought on how scoring breaks down next year, Assuming we miss on Parker.

Tank 19-20 ppg, Craft 12 ppg, Lenzelle 8 ppg, Ross 12 ppg, Amir 8 PPG, Rav 6 ppg, Sam T 6 ppg, scott 4 ppg.