Nov. 12, 2008
SEATTLE (AP) - After one exhibition game, Isaiah Thomas is already getting star treatment.
Yet Washington coach Lorenzo Romar was restrained when talking about Thomas after the former high school phenom scored 27 points in just 19 minutes of his debut last week.
The performance showed why former star Nate Robinson, a member of the New York Knicks, recently encouraged the teenager to wear his No. 2 Washington jersey.
"He did a nice job," Romar said blandly of his flashy guard after the win over Western Washington last week, the Huskies' only exhibition game before Saturday's season opener.
No exclamations. No awe like that from Western Washington coach Brad Jackson, who watched Thomas drive past his Vikings in a 9-for-12 shooting debut.
"It is like guarding air," Jackson said. "He is there -- and then he's not there."
Romar just showed a small, wry grin with a slight nod of his head.
Hey, why so subdued? Everyone else seems to be dreaming of how the addition of Thomas to senior inside force Jon Brockman could have the Huskies back in the NCAA tournament after a two-year absence.
"I've always felt that players who have the ability to score like that, you don't say a whole lot to him. You let him play," Romar said. "The worst thing you can do to a scorer is coach him too much.
"You've got to live with the mistakes -- and there will be mistakes. But I think the good will outweigh the bad."
Romar has waited two years to give Thomas this hands-off treatment. He spent that time at South Kent School in Connecticut, getting his grades in order so that he could enroll at the UW. The 19-year-old said the time there matured him.
At first glance, it didn't diminish the skills that sent him ripping through the Washington state high school tournament a few years ago, averaging 41.5 points. He scored 51 in one game, a schoolboy star like that other Isiah Thomas -- who is 28 years older and went from Chicago to Indiana University and then NBA stardom.
Against Division II Western Washington, Thomas consistently took the ball at the top of the key in half-court sets and sped past four defenders. When the fifth leaped at him near the rim, Thomas floated around or beside him and flipped in smooth shots. He made all eight of his 2-point attempts while going 1-for-3 from 3-point range in the 105-85 win on Thursday.
"Another day at the office," Thomas said, displaying what his new teammates call his "swagger."
"I really don't drive as much as I did, but my shot wasn't falling," he said.
Romar said Thomas won't be driving so easily once the competition gets tougher, beginning this weekend.
"As the season progresses, just about every time he drives it will be contested," said Romar, whose team plays defending national champion Kansas on Nov. 24 in Kansas City, Mo., and a rugged Pac 10 schedule beginning in January.
But that doesn't mean Romar thinks Thomas will be stymied. He said his guard will get to display another, more overlooked skill.
"When we play against teams with bigger size, he will dish that out," the coach said. "He will pass."
Romar wants his players to eliminate the lapses of defense and ball handling that he felt marred the Huskies' win over Western Washington. They allowed 58 points in the second half and had 20 turnovers, many unforced.
Washington opens play Saturday, on the road for the first time in Romar's six seasons, against the young Pilots. They were 10-23 overall and 3-11 in the West Coast Conference last season.
Portland returns five players who started at least 13 games last season, and seven of its top eight scorers are back. But the team has no seniors, and was picked by the media to finish fifth in its eight-team conference.