Bud Thomas is a long way from home. Hes 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. Im that type of guy -- team first, with my style of play.
Thomas style of play is simple. Hes 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. Its 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 Hoffmans Bears have a great season.
Youd 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.
Its unusual to find a player who doesnt 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 Im double-teamed or I see an open man, Im going to hit them, Thomas said. There are a lot of times when I probably should take a shot, but Im not the type of player to force my shot. I hear plenty from outside people that my average is down or that Im not scoring enough. Thats not going to faze me.
If my team needs me to score, then Ill look to score. But Im 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. Its the type of game some wish Thomas would have more often, but hes very comfortable knowing what he needs to do to help Mercer win.
Im fine with this role I have right now, he said. Im 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 dont 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 whats wrong. If Im contributing, my coaches know that and my teammates know that. I dont want to call it dirty work, because I enjoy it. Ive 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 Colorados Mr. Basketball two years in a row.
Its kind of fun to create a new path and not just go to the average, in-state school, Thomas said. Im creating my own. I wouldnt trade my decision for the world.
Its 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 theres still work to be done, as Mercer gets back to practice Wednesday to prepare for the NIT.
If Mercer wins, dont be fooled by the stats. Even if Thomas doesnt score a whole lot of points, hell 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.