Matt Thomas used off-season, early practices to focus on D

AMES — Wild fact: Iowa State’s sharp-shooting freshman, Matt Thomas of Onalaska, Wisc., never played man-to-man defense in high school. Ever. 

This is why all summer long and throughout the first two weeks of Iowa State’s practices for the upcoming 2013-14 campaign, Thomas has been focusing on his game at that end of the floor – not wearing out nets, which is what he was recruited to do.

“It’s been a process but with the coaching that I have been taking with these guys I have taken big strides,” Thomas said. “By the time we start playing I am going to be there.”

Thomas played zone all four years during his high school career. But just because he’s never played man-to-man defense doesn’t mean that Thomas will automatically be a liability on defense though. According to Fred Hoiberg, Thomas is one of those high basketball IQ guys, which should help the transition.

“As he has continued to develop and get comfortable on that end, it has made his offense start to come on,” Hoiberg said. “He is starting to understand our spacing concepts and again, he is a guy who with the way we like to play can get a lot of minutes for us.”

In his media day press conference last week, Hoiberg noted that this Iowa State team needs to be better on the defensive end of the floor than last year’s. When you consider all of the firepower that Iowa State lost last year, not to mention Chris Babb on the defensive end, that absolutely has to be the case for the Cyclones to return to their third straight NCAA Tournament. 

For Thomas, it will be about out-smarting the opposition. 

“Personally, I think that defense is just being smart and being in the right position,” Thomas said. “You can take shortcuts. I’m not the most athletic guy and I’m not the fastest guy but I’m going to be smart and I’ll be in the right spot so that will help me too.”

Thomas was ranked as the 51st best player in college basketball’s 2013 recruiting class by ESPN. He averaged 28.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game as a senior at Onalaska.