In early October, College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik sat down with senior forward Anthony Thomas to talk about the upcoming season.
College of Charleston at Northeastern
WHEN: 7 p.m. WHERE: Matthews Arena (5,066), Boston
RECORDS: Charleston 9-8, 1-1 CAA; Northeastern 4-12, 1-1
TV/RADIO: NBCSN/WTMZ 910-AM
LINE: Northeastern by 21/2
NOTES: The Cougars are coming off a 75-71 road loss to Hofstra on Saturday night. . Nori Johnson scored a season-high 25 points in the loss. Johnson connected on a season-high seven 3-pointers during the game. . Anthony Stitt recorded his first double-double of his career with 17 points, 11 rebounds and added seven assists. . The Cougars, who had been averaging 18 fouls a game, were whistled for 31 fouls against the Pride. Four Cougars fouled out during the game. . Northeastern, which captured the CAA regular season title a year ago, lost a 93-88 double- overtime thriller to Drexel on Saturday. . Scott Eartherton leads the Hukies averaging 16.9 points and 10 rebounds a game. . David Walker is second on the team in scoring, averaging 11.5 points a game.
Thomas had started all 35 games for the Cougars a year ago, but with the emergence of freshmen Canyon Barry and Joe Chealey, Wojcik was tinkering with the idea of starting three guards.
That meant that Thomas would have to come off the bench.
Wojcik's reasoning behind the move was twofold. One, he wanted another ballhandler and shooter on the floor and liked the idea of having three guards in the lineup. Two, he wanted to bring a versatile, veteran player off the bench who could give the Cougars an offensive spark when he entered the lineup.
Thomas was the perfect choice.
But before Wojcik did anything, he wanted to make sure Thomas was OK with the idea. Wojcik understood that having a disgruntled captain upset over his new role could be disastrous for the Cougars' chemistry and locker room atmosphere.
Wojcik explained his reasoning, told Thomas that his role with the team really wouldn't change that much. That he'd still get about the same amount of playing time and was still expected to rebound, defend and get to the basket.
Thomas listened to his coach, thought about it for a moment, and said, "OK, I trust you coach."
The meeting was over.
"To have Anthony say that, to have him trust me was all I needed to hear," Wojcik said. "You don't get that level trust with every player who comes through your program. Anthony is a team guy, he puts the team ahead of himself. He doesn't think about himself or have an agenda. He just wants to do whatever he can to help this team win. That's why he's one of our captains."
For the first 10 games of the season, Thomas came off the bench. He didn't pout or sulk. He gave the Cougars exactly what Wojcik had hoped for, an offensive threat off the bench and a player who is capable of defending three different positions.
"I'm a team guy," Thomas said. "If coach wants to bring me off the bench, that's fine with me. I'm OK with that. Not being in the starting lineup kind of gave me a chance to see the game from a different perspective. I was able to see how the other team was playing, so when I got into the game, I'd know what was going to work and what wouldn't."
Thomas came off the Cougars' bench for the first 10 games of the season. His minutes per game, points and rebounds were nearly identical to what they had been last season. The only problem was that Wojcik's experiment with a three-guard lineup wasn't working out as well as he'd hoped. After a loss to winless Marist at home on Dec. 15, Wojcik knew a change had to be made. He approached Thomas and told him he'd be back in the starting lineup against Old Dominion the following game.
Thomas just shrugged and said, "OK, I trust you coach."
The Winston-Salem, N.C., native has been in the starting lineup since then. The Cougars are 5-2 with Thomas as a starter.
At 6-7 and with the ability to put the ball on the floor get to the front of the rim, Thomas has proven to be a matchup nightmare for most teams.
"Anthony is such a multi-purpose player," Wojcik said. "He does so many different things for us. He can handle the ball like a guard, he gets to the front of the rim and either scores or draws a foul. He defends. He rebounds. I think he's been one of our most consistent players all season."
And later in the season, if Wojcik changes his mind and needs Thomas to come off the bench again?
"That's OK, no one is bigger than the team," Thomas said.
Anthony Thomas scored 2 of his 10 points on this shot over James Madison's Andrey Semenov and had 11 rebounds as the Cougars beat the Dukes 75-61 at TD Arena on Tuesday, January 7, 2014. Wade Spees/Staff×