Class Buckeye - Deshaun Thomas

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His column will appear every Wednesday.

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Deshaun Thomas
photo courtesy of Ohio State Athletics

With the 58th pick of the 2013 NBA draft, the Spurs selected a rare breed from Ohio State, a 6-foot-7 forward who led the Big Ten in scoring and the NCAA in class.

Meet Deshaun Thomas, one of the most popular Buckeye athletes in history, regardless of sport. He arrived in the fall of 2010 as Indiana Mr. Basketball, a phenom who committed to Ohio State before he started high school in Fort Wayne. He left not with a national championship or a slew of school records -- but with deep respect and admiration that reached across campus and beyond.

What did he do? Thomas wrote a letter. He crafted a four-paragraph appeal to the editor of the school newspaper, The Lantern, that generated applause and wonder.

Thomas asked the newspaper to give successful athletes in other sports more coverage. He cited by name a wrestler who had won a national title, a fencer who had captured a gold medal and two gymnasts who had secured Big Ten titles.

“I wish all athletes could receive the attention that our football and basketball teams get,” Thomas wrote. “They all deserve to be celebrated.”

The athletes Thomas mentioned by name were stunned. What basketball star had ever done that before? Disbelief gave way to gratitude and the good feeling spread. Thomas received hundreds of tweets, texts, emails. He walked into the Younkin Success Center -- a gathering place for studying and tutoring -- and received rock star treatment.

There were hugs, high-fives, backslaps, an outpouring of affection. “A lot of people shook my hand and congratulated me,” Thomas says.

A lot of those people were athletes in non-revenue producing sports. Sarah Miller, a Big 10 champion in the balance beam, led the way after her name appeared in the letter.

“She was very surprised,” Thomas says. “She said, ‘Thank you, Deshaun. That was so special.’ She sent me the same thing in a text. I also heard from baseball and soccer guys. Everybody was so happy.”

Why did he write the letter? Athletes in lesser-known sports would grumble. One would say, “Football players and basketball players get all the attention.” Another would say, “Nobody recognizes us.” Thomas would agree. “You’re right,” he’d say. “That’s not fair. You works as hard as we do, if not harder.”

That alone made the slighted athletes feel a little better. But Thomas felt he needed to do more. After all, he’d been getting lots of attention for years. …

“I got my first recruiting letter in seventh grade,” Thomas says. “It was from the Florida Gators.”

In 8th grade, Thomas began stuffing a shoebox with more letters. He stood 6-foot-5. After leading his middle school team to back-to-back city championships in Fort Wayne, Thomas visited Ohio State. After meeting with coach Thad Matta, Thomas made an oral commitment.

Choosing a high school was more difficult. He liked three. On the recommendation of his father, Thomas enrolled in Bishop Luers, a private Catholic school. But before he played his first game, Thomas had pledged to become a Buckeye. “My family was in shock,” he says. “They said, ‘There are other schools. There are other schools.’ But I was like, ‘I like this school, mom.’”

The future Buckeye wowed as a high school freshman, averaging 28.95 points per game, second-best in Indiana, 1/100th of a point behind the leader at 28.96, a senior who would go on to star for the Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans, Eric Gordon.

As a sophomore and junior, Thomas led Bishop Luers to back-to-back Class 2A state championships. He finished as the third-leading scorer in Indiana history (3,018 points), a McDonald’s All-American, a five-star recruit.

At Ohio State, Thomas made a memorable debut. He came off the bench to score 24 points against North Carolina AT&T. That made headlines, of course, the kind he’d been making -- and would continue to make as a scorer -- for years.

College gymnasts don’t make national headlines. Wrestlers don’t get the attention of basketball players. So Thomas wrote a letter. “They put in the same time we do,” says Thomas, who averaged 19.8 points last season. “To see the smiles on their faces made me happy. I made a lot of new friends. You never know. One day, they could be signing your check.”

You might think the letter was the inspiration of a public relations major. It wasn’t. Thomas is one year short of earning a degree in sports management. He wants to coach. He wants to teach young athletes, shape character, spark dreams, But only after he finishes pursuing his own.

The day after the draft, Thomas was recalling the success of another late second-round pick, and the emergence of a young Spur who has been cut multiple times.

“Pop is a great coach who knows how to make players better,” Thomas says. “Look at Danny Green. Look at Manu Ginobili. I feel great about being a Spur. It’s a great organization.”