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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Men's Basketball

For Cougars, defense, rebounding key

Junior forward TaShawn Thomas is looking to gain some respect this season, but above all else, he just wants to help his team win — and that starts with defense and rebounding.

The team’s leading scorer said he hopes to pass this mentality on to his teammates.

TaShawn Thomas

The Cougars let a number of their opponents steal games after they build double-digit halftime leads. | File photo/ The Daily Cougar

“I don’t feel like I’ve been getting respect my whole life when it comes to basketball, so I’m kind of used to it,” Thomas said. “I just plan to come out and play hard like I always do, and I really don’t pay attention to what the polls are saying.”

Last year, there were some games that the Cougars almost won, but not having a consistent defense limited their winning potential, Thomas said. The Cougars will get an opportunity to test their defensive and rebounding skills today at 7 p.m. when they host St. Thomas at Hofheinz Pavilion.

“If the coaches are the only people that believe we have to defend, then there’s something wrong,” Thomas said. “So we have to get that through everybody on the team’s head — that we have to defend.”

The Cougars gave up 73.3 points per game to their opponents last season, an area where improvement is needed, said head coach James Dickey.

“We’ve got some very good offensive players. We know they can score, and they have very good confidence in themselves, but we have got to be as determined (on the defensive side of the ball),” Dickey said. “For us, it’s about having an identity: an identity of being more physical and being better defensively and being a better rebounding team.”

After the departure of the Cougars’ leading scorer from last season, Joseph Young, opposing teams could pay more attention to Thomas. He averaged 16.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, and was named First Team all-league and All-Defensive squad.

Thomas worked on his face-up post game this offseason to diversify his skills in the painted area. Most of his baskets last season were scored with his back to the basket, so teams started to double-team him toward the end of the season, Thomas said. He said the added skills will allow him to better counter double-teams.

Though Thomas has been playing basketball for most of his life, he is still anxious for the nearing season.

“I still have butterflies in my stomach, like I did when I was in the third grade getting ready for a game,” Thomas said. “I just love basketball so much that every time I get a chance to step on the court, I’m going to get very excited for it.”

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