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Thomas is back and ready to go

Andrew Soukup | Thursday, October 9, 2003

When Chris Thomas pulled his name out of the NBA Draft and decided to return to Notre Dame for his junior year, NBA scouts told Mike Brey he was gaining a much more mature point guard.

At the time, Brey didn’t quite believe what the scouts said. But after a summer leading the team in pick-up games and four full-fledged practices, Brey is starting to realize the scouts were right.

“I told him when he decided to come back, ‘You didn’t need to go work Nike camp, you need to be here with our team for six weeks and you need to lead,'” Brey said. “I thought he did a great job of that, and I think he took a lot of pride in that.

“I didn’t know if I agreed with those NBA people when they told me that, but they were prophetic in that statement.”

Thomas, a 6-foot-1 guard who has started every game of his Notre Dame career, averaged 18.7 points and 6.9 assists a game last year. And while Brey allowed his star point guard to play fearlessly – and the Irish benefited from his playmaking ability – Thomas also committed back-breaking turnovers.

But if what Brey has said he’s seen in practice carries over into the season, those mistakes will be drastically eliminated.

“I just learned the game can come real easy to me if I bear down and focus on each and every play,” Thomas said. “I think there were times I overanalyzed and made the wrong decision. There were times when I tried to make more of what’s not there.

“I think if I keep things simple, my game will come and I’ll be successful.”

What changed Thomas? It might have been a spring and summer on the road by himself, living in apartments trying out for NBA teams who pointed out his faults while telling him he had tremendous potential. Brey also named the vocal Thomas a captain, meaning he had more responsibility leading the team – a role the junior embraced.

“It was his time to do that with older guys graduating and now as a junior,” Brey said.

While the Irish might rely on Torin Francis to generate points down low or Chris Quinn and Colin Falls to launch 3-pointers, there is no secret that Thomas is the lynchpin to Notre Dame’s success. In the past, if Thomas has played well, so have the Irish. If they’ve struggled, so has Thomas.

“Sometimes before, it wasn’t him so much trying to force the issue, but him putting pressure on himself to make the big play,” senior Torrian Jones said. “It wasn’t himself being selfish but him trying to help the team out in any way he can. He is ready to step up and be a big player this year.”

In Notre Dame’s four practices this season, Brey said Thomas has done a better job managing the flow of the game. If a teammate grabs a bunch of rebounds, Thomas ensures he gets a pass on offense. If Thomas penetrates, he now looks to pass it to the wing as much as he tries to make a shot.

“We need him to manage the game better, absolutely,” Brey said. “He could make better decisions, but he has to score for us, too. He has to make plays for us. I want him to be fearless, daring and go for things. That’s a little bit of a fine line with him.”

Thomas brushes off questions about his flirtations with his NBA future, saying that he’s totally committed to Notre Dame’s success this season. Ironically, he’s counting on his experience with his NBA past to carry the Irish through the season.

“Through my experiences, the better that you become, the more you learn and the better experience you gain,” Thomas said. “I feel like each and every year, I gain more understanding of how to run the team and how to play the game.”