There's no doubting Thomas

December 21, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Tubby Smith had his doubts about whether Sheray Thomas could help Kentucky this season.

It wasn't a question of ability. Thomas had proved himself at the end of last year when he learned his lessons so well as a freshman that he became one of Kentucky's top reserves in postseason play.

However, an unspecified preseason surgery not only caused Thomas to lose 25 pounds, it also kept him from practicing with team. It wasn't until mid-December that he got the clearance to practice.

"He has the mentality that he wants to play and he has that belief that he would get better and would work himself to get ready to play," said Smith Monday. "He put in a lot of work with a lot of people to get back to this point."


Thomas played just over one minute in Saturday's win at Louisville. He scored one point when he was fouled driving to the basket just after he entered the game. That play emphasized not only the mobility Thomas can provide on the inside, but also the physical play.

"Knocking people around is what I am used to doing," Thomas said. "When I come in, I try to make an instant impact and do whatever I can to be physical. That's my game."

Still, like Smith, he worried that all his offseason work and the lessons he learned last year might not be put to use this season.

"There was a time I wasn't sure if I would be able to play. It was hard, but I had to face that possibility," Thomas said. "I didn't know I would play for sure this year until about three days before the Louisville game. Until then, I was really wondering. But once I was able to practice, things just started happening for me. They said I might get to dress for the Louisville game, and then I even got to play."

Not nearly back to 100 percent

Thomas says he's still not nearly back to 100 percent. He estimates that might be another three weeks away when he's regained all the weight he's lost and gotten himself back into playing shape, but he hopes to play more against William & Mary here Wednesday.

"I am just glad I was able to get out there and help my team win a big game," Thomas said. "That lets them know I can still help and that I am going to be able to do more in the next few weeks.

"I am not even supposed to be back playing now. I am just glad that I have recovered to the point that I am able to get back on the court with my teammates and play."

Smith worried in the preseason what Thomas' absence might do. Not only can he back up Chuck Hayes at power forward, but he can also play inside if Smith wants to use a smaller, quicker lineup rather than a true center in Randolph Morris, Shagari Alleyne or Lukasz Obrzut.

"He brings that toughness inside. If he continues to get strong, he can give us that lift we need inside with his defense and scoring where we have lacked mobility," Smith said.

Smith said Louisville center Ellis Myles exposed UK's lack of inside mobility before the Cats went to smaller lineup in the second half that kept Myles from scoring.

"Sheray has that mobility to guard people and he can also cause problems for the other team," Smith said.

His family lives in Canada

Thomas had no major problems recovering from his surgery even though his family lives in Canada. His parents were here for the surgery, but once they returned home, he still found plenty of help.

"Everybody pretty much helped me, especially the training staff," Thomas said. "I leaned on everyone. They were all positive and told me I would be coming back and that everything would be fine. It was a real team effort to get me back. When I am not home, these guys are my family. They all looked after me."

Thomas' surgery has changed one part of his play. He now appreciates just having the opportunity to compete.

"I have a new appreciation for just getting on the court," he said. "You can take things for granted and assume that everything will always just come easily to you. When being able to play basketball is taken away, you realize how much you have and what great opportunities you have. I can guarantee you I will always come out now and appreciate just being able to play. I'll never take being able to play for granted again."

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