KANSAS CITY, Mo. — That was a different dude out there.
Matt Thomas, Iowa State’s soft-spoken sophomore who missed the first two games of the season due to a suspension, laced up his sneakers for the first time in 2014-15 on Monday night and was crucial in Iowa State’s 84-74 victory over Alabama in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.
This wasn’t just your classic "Thomas hit a few big threes" conversation either.
Thomas was an efficient 5-for-6 from the field, scored 13 points, played a little defense and refreshingly recorded a team-high eight rebounds. Physically on the floor, the Wisconsin native visibly looked stronger than he did as a freshman.
Mentally though, he was in a different world. This is where Matt Thomas has grown the most.
“Everything was flowing,” Thomas said. “I was just out there having fun.”
I’m not sure that Thomas was always “having fun” during his rookie campaign. In fact, I’d bet that most of the time, he wasn’t.
Even though Thomas statistically had the second best 3-point shooting season (34 percent) in the history of Iowa State basketball as a freshman, a novice set of basketball eyes could see that he was hesitant. Thomas was thinking instead of reacting.
“I think this year you will see a lot of that,” Thomas said. “Last year I might have been timid at times and what not being a freshman. What I did tonight is what I am looking forward to doing all season.”
Thomas’ assertive performance echoed the rumblings that have been leaking out of Ames all preseason long – that he has been lights out from long range and playing with a swagger that was non-existent a year ago.
Over the last year, nobody has had more confidence in Thomas than his head coach. Remember last season when Fred Hoiberg publicly went to bat for Thomas (the "social media is going to be the end of us" rant), who at the time was being affected by the social media negativity surrounding his game?
Even after an OWI arrest this spring, Hoiberg stuck by and had faith in his guy. The same was the case after Monday’s win.
“It is hard going from high school to playing major college basketball,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Matt had a solid year. He lost his confidence a little bit at the end but he has been on a mission. He really has dedicated himself to doing everything right. When you work as hard as that kid does, it’s great to see it pay off.”
As a person and a basketball player, Matt Thomas has grown up a lot in one year. Need proof? CLICK HERE to read what he told me this summer regarding the OWI arrest this spring.
Thomas made a mistake. Young men and women do that. Heck, we all did things in our college years that we wish we could take back.
But Thomas made the best of a bad situation, learned from it, had an incredible offseason and looked like a rejuvenated basketball player in his sophomore debut.
That’s what this thing we call "life" is all about.
*** Along with Thomas, Abdel Nader made his debut last night and as expected, looked hesitant during his 10 minutes of work. Nader scored four points, snagged a rebounded and committed four fouls in the win. The potential is there though, which is encouraging.
*** Tonight’s opponent, Maryland (4-0), received three votes in Monday’s AP Top 25. The Terrapins topped Arizona State 78-73 on Monday night in Kansas City. Freshman guard Melo Trimble went off for 31 points in the win. He was averaging 10.3 points per game heading into Monday.
*** Got New Years Eve plans yet? If a trip to Hilton Coliseum is what’s in store for your family, get ready to witness a blood bath. The Cyclones will host Mississippi Valley State, who lost to TCU 106-53 on Monday night (yikes). TCU is a much better basketball team than it was a season ago, but this isn’t exactly the 1995 Chicago Bulls we’re talking about here.
*** Big 12 fans are in for a great night of hoops. Kansas State will meet No. 3 Arizona in the Maui Invitational tonight at 6:30 on ESPN. The game is staggered perfectly with Iowa State/Maryland, which will tip at 8:30.