Elijah Thomas boosts Clemson with versatility in third season

first_imgElijah Thomas positioned himself atop the 3-point arc with his feet pointed toward the rim. Standing at 6-foot-9, ESPN ranked him as the eighth best center in his recruiting class. Back at Lancaster (Texas) High School, Thomas’ head coach Ferrin Douglas said no one could guard Thomas down low. But, in Lancaster’s state title game, Thomas stood behind the 3-point line and swished the jumper. “When you’re a basketball player and you don’t allow yourself under a position,” Thomas said, ”You’re able to put so many player’s aspects into your game, and that’s what makes me versatile.”Pacing Clemson (10-4, 0-1 Atlantic Coast) in rebounds per game (7.4), blocks per game (1.6) and tied for second in points per game (13.6), Thomas doesn’t like to think of himself in one position. The senior has established himself as a potent, multi-tooled force in the paint. His effective field goal percentage of 67.3 ranks 36th in the nation, and it will lead the Tigers into the Carrier Dome on Wednesday night to play Syracuse (10-4, 1-0).Thomas began his career at Texas A&M in 2015. Thomas had struggled with health in the preseason with a foot injury and concussion, according to a CBS Sports report. That December, after playing just eight games, Thomas knew he needed a change. Before the transfer, he averaged 3.8 points and 2.5 rebounds in just 9.9 minutes per game. AdvertisementThis is placeholder textWhen Thomas looked at Clemson, he saw a rising program that could utilize his multifaceted talent. He joined the team for the 2016-17 season when he made nine starts. But by the next season, Thomas blossomed. On Nov. 16 against Ohio last season, he recorded 17 points and 15 rebounds — the first Clemson player to hit 15 and 15 in nine years. About a week later, on Nov. 24, he posted 26 points and 16 rebounds against Texas Southern. In that game Thomas made 10 field goals, showing his prowess for shooting. The once-recruited center is listed now as a forward.“It was a chance I took, and I love it here,” Thomas said.In January of last year, Thomas was thrust into a larger role when senior big man Donte Grantham suffered a season-ending knee injury. Grantham was a premier source of points (14.2), rebounds (6.9) and blocks (0.9). Thomas’ minutes per game increased two minutes to 26 per game to help cover all those areas.Thomas adapted and finished the season averaging 25 minutes per game with 10.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. His 2.3 blocks per game earned him ACC All-Defensive Team honors. The Tigers made a run to the Sweet 16 with Thomas in the middle.When Thomas faced off against Syracuse last March, he found success, tallying 18 points and six rebounds. He went 5-for-5 from the field. Despite being smaller than 7-foot-2 Paschal Chukwu and 6-foot-10 Bourama Sidibe, Thomas dominated the matchup. Chukwu tallied just two points (both on free throws) and Sidibe didn’t score.“He gives us a really good inside and outside balance,” Tim Bourret, Clemson’s 40-year radio broadcaster said. “He’s a guy every night that’s capable of getting a double-double if he can stay out of foul trouble.”Foul trouble has often been a problem with Thomas’ post play. In Clemson’s 14 games, the undersized big totaled four or more fouls in half of them. But Bourret said Thomas has the chance to become a top-10 Clemson big man, placed among Tree Rollins, Elden Campbell, Larry Nance Sr., and Horace Grant. Thomas has distinguished himself through his play style, the same versatility that has brought him to the ACC. Douglas, who also coached former NBA all-star Chris Bosh in high school, knew Thomas was different as a freshman in high school. Something that allows Thomas to play the way he does is his ability to shoot with both hands. Douglas remembers his surprise when he found out Thomas was a natural righty, having seen him take the majority of his shots left-handed. He could shoot just as well with the right.“Eli can play all five positions,” Douglas said. “He’s special, man.” Comments Published on January 8, 2019 at 5:07 pm Contact Eric: estorms@syr.edu Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more