The journey of the senior point guard has been an interesting one.
I can only imagine that there have been fewer freshman debuts as rough as the one Quentin Thomas endured in November of 2004. With Raymond Felton sitting out the season opener due to his participation in an unsanctioned summer basketball tournament, the weight was thrown on the true freshman who had his struggles. Since the offense was out of whack, the Heels never got it together dropped the game to a team they really should have beaten throughly. And while the team largely recovered, it seems like Thomas never really did. His play throughout the rest of the season made UNC fans cringe. He was erratic and tried to play as fast as Felton did which usually resulted more turnovers. It was during that season we became well acquainted with fact the offense fell to pieces with Felton out and Thomas in.
Fast forward through two more seasons where Thomas had his share of injuries and his play never really improved except in isolates spots. In 05-06 the team was first entrusted to a freshman in Bobby Frasor keeping Thomas as a backup. The following season, Thomas’ junior year, he tumbled even further down the depth chart landing as the 3rd option at PG behind yet another freshman, Ty Lawson and Frasor. And while there were games or moment where Thomas showed something, largely he was seen as the nervous option to run the offense. In this present season, much of that perception has held fast for the fans and seeming confirmed by the first Clemson game where Thomas came in and promptly handed the Tigers free points off TOs on the break. With Frasor out, Thomas was the only option at point and that in itself was a huge concern.
But something happened on the way to town. Lawson went down and Thomas was forced into action. Initially it was not pretty. The offense convulsed and sputtered against Florida State and Duke. The transition offense was non-existent and turnovers abounded. Starting with the second half against Duke and into the Clemson game, Thomas largely played better despite turnover issues and some struggle with getting the offense until deep into the Clemson game where it seemed like the Heels started figuring things out a bit. This led to perhaps the greatest irony of all while watching the Virginia game and that was how the offense struggled without Thomas on the floor and with Marcus Ginyard running the point. Thomas had been saddled with fouls and when he was out, the offense fell to pieces much like it was doing when Lawson first went out.
So through all these struggles and forgettable games, Saturday’s game with Virginia Tech happened. Thomas came out an played the PG position as well as he has, most likely in his whole career at UNC. On top of that, the offense has finally meshed with Thomas running the show. That is not to say Lawson is no longer needed since he still is the more skilled PG on the team. However, the gap between #1 and #2 has been closed to a very comfortable one. Thomas, despite having a career that up to the point where Lawson was hurt, probably would be less memorable than Matt Wenstom answered the bell. It is pretty obvious Thomas has great character and immense patience amid swirl of frustration stemming from his own level of play and lack of playing time. But that willingness to wait, paid dividends. Quentin Thomas has stepped up and in many ways gotten this team back on track by playing a solid point position that also gets the offense working. This is what a senior does and it matters not Thomas’ career has been rather paltry in the previous three seasons he has given it all and saved the Heels from a certain late season collapse.
In the end I think it is a testimony to the resiliency of this young man for finding a way to make things work. Also credit goes to the UNC coaching staff for buoying Thomas and assisting him in being a better PG. I have often counted myself as one of the naysayers when it comes to Thomas because of the offensive struggles and TOs. At this point I could not be happier for Thomas to see him play a key role and play it well. The much more pertinent development is how the team has responded and shown the offensive effectiveness will not suffer as it has in the past under Thomas. No, he is still no Ty Lawson but Thomas is where he needs to be to ensure that when Lawson has to take a break, fewer beats will be missed along the way.
So, thanks to Quentin Thomas for being one of those to step up and push this team, even in the survival type games. I can safely say I feel immensely better about how things will go with Thomas in the game.