Thomas makes Mercer basketball team better

sports@macon.comMarch 12, 2013 

Bud Thomas is a long way from home. He’s from Highlands Ranch, Colo., some 1,500 miles away from Mercer.

When Thomas was a top-ranked high school basketball star three years ago, he had a chance to play in Indiana, New York and in his home state. But he took a visit to Mercer, and Thomas knew where he needed to be.

“They made me feel at home,” Thomas said. “I had never heard of Mercer, never heard of Macon. I kind of bonded with the team. The coaches had a real family-style feel. I’m that type of guy -- team first, with my style of play.”

Thomas’ style of play is simple. He’s not interested in being a ball-hog who tries to light up the stat sheet. Thomas does the little things, and he proves that the game is not all about scoring points. It’s about hustle, fundamentals, playing defense and the determination to help your team win -- even if it means sacrificing the statistics that usually get your name in the paper.

In a way, Thomas is a reflection of the type of player who has helped Bob Hoffman’s Bears have a great season.

“You’d never look at him and say, ‘Wow, this guy is going to make a huge difference in this game,’ ” Hoffman said. “You might think he might be on a beach somewhere, hanging out or snowboarding. But he affects the game because his basketball IQ is off the charts. He is so smart about the game.”

It’s unusual to find a player who doesn’t have that score-first mentality. Most players want the glory and the glamour of being a 20-point per game players. But Thomas has a selfless attitude that has simply made him a special player.

“If I’m double-teamed or I see an open man, I’m going to hit them,” Thomas said. “There are a lot of times when I probably should take a shot, but I’m not the type of player to force my shot. I hear plenty from outside people that my average is down or that I’m not scoring enough. That’s not going to faze me.

“If my team needs me to score, then I’ll look to score. But I’m not the type of player to force anything and just shoot bad shots to get two points.”

Thomas averaged 7.8 points per game this season, fourth best on the team. But when Mercer needed him to score last Friday in the A-Sun semifinals, Thomas scored 20 points against USC Upstate. It’s the type of game some wish Thomas would have more often, but he’s very comfortable knowing what he needs to do to help Mercer win.

“I’m fine with this role I have right now,” he said. “I’m going to be out there trying to get the little deflections and steals that may lead to someone else getting a steal or making an extra pass where the points don’t show up.

“People are always going to look at the box score and see how many points so-and-so had. When they see me with four or six in a couple of games, they wonder what’s wrong. If I’m contributing, my coaches know that and my teammates know that. I don’t want to call it dirty work, because I enjoy it. I’ve kind of embraced it.”

Thomas admitted his friends back home still wonder why he went to Mercer. He was a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year for Colorado in high school, and the Denver Post named Thomas Colorado’s Mr. Basketball two years in a row.

“It’s kind of fun to create a new path and not just go to the average, in-state school,” Thomas said. “I’m creating my own. I wouldn’t trade my decision for the world.”

It’s probably safe to say Thomas has found a second home in Macon. The Mercer forward probably will take on an even larger role next year as a senior. But there’s still work to be done, as Mercer gets back to practice Wednesday to prepare for the NIT.

If Mercer wins, don’t be fooled by the stats. Even if Thomas doesn’t score a whole lot of points, he’ll probably be a big reason for the success.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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