Promising Thomas takes court for first time in college
Associate Sports Editor
He's quiet, but doesn't hide his excitement. He's reserved, but knows his talent. And he's anxious, but at the same time, radiates confidence.
Tonight, the Chris Thomas era begins as Irish fans get their first glimpse of the freshman point guard in his first collegiate game as the Irish host the International Select All-Star team in Notre Dame's first of two exhibition games.
"I'm just looking forward to that whole atmosphere," he said. "I haven't been in a place where it's this big with this many fans."
Thomas, a McDonalds All-American and Indiana's Mr. Basketball, enters Notre Dame with the highest expectations of Irish fans for any freshman since Troy Murphy arrived three years ago.
"I'm very excited to see Chris out there," said Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey. "It's nice that we have two exhibitions — dress rehearsals, if you will — because that can be a jittery time. With him, our theme has been we have a talented young man, and we have to be patient and nurture him."
But with senior tri-captains David Graves, Ryan Humphrey and Harold Swanagan joining junior Matt Carroll in the starting lineup, Thomas feels much more comfortable having that experience surrounding him.
"They're so mature about the whole process, with bringing me into the system and accepting me as my point guard," Thomas said. "The biggest thing was them trusting me with the ball, and I think they do that."
"He doesn't try to do too much out there, and he looks for other people to help him out," Graves said. "Usually, you want a freshman to be quiet and stay out the way, but he's been a major part. He's kind of a quiet leader out there."
Irish fans got an early glimpse of Thomas' athleticism when we won the slam-dunk contest at Midnight Madness earlier this season. And while Brey said he expects to see his young point guard make early turnovers that he wouldn't make later in the season, he's not going to waste time trying to tell Thomas every little thing.
"Chris Thomas is at his best when he's instinctive and reacting to the game and playing with a free mind, and we as a coaching staff are going to try to let him do that," Brey said. "My theme is when you have good players, let them play. He's going to learn some things, and there's some things he's going to learn the hard way, but he has to be allowed to be daring, when he's daring, he's really good. Chris Thomas is at his best when he's instinctive."
It's ironic that the first college point guard Thomas will face is Martin Ingelsby, who started every game at point guard last year for the Irish and now works in Notre Dame's sports information department in addition to being a member of the International Select All-Star team.
"I miss him — I really miss him," Brey said. "I'm thrilled to coach Chris Thomas and nurture a talented young guard, but Martin and I were on the same page from day one. They played a little bit in pickup before. Will be will age get the better of youth?"
"It'll be a little different seeing Martin on the other team," Graves said. "He knows our tendencies and we know his tendencies."
But more than anything, the Irish are looking forward to playing against someone other than themselves. And they're not going to be blowing off tonight's game — Brey and Graves both said it's a valuable opportunity to see how the team looks this early in the season.
"After two-a-days, you get into the dog days and you do need to play someone else," he said. "Beating on each other is getting a little old. I'm looking forward to Thursday when we're all sitting on the bench together and starting to look at ourselves against some outside competition."
All Sports Stories for Thursday, November 1, 2001