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Shaq Thomas: An Appreciation

Even if Thomas never became the next great Bearcat baller, he was a stalwart for the last four years and deserves credit for helping Cincinnati to four-straight NCAA Tournaments.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Career Numbers

  • 5.6 points, 11.7 per 40 minutes
  • 2.9 rebounds, 6.1 per 40 minutes
  • 0.7 steals, 1.4 per 40 minutes
  • .446/.313/.600 shooting splits
Shaq Thomas is a victim of high expectations. After scoring 28 points and eight assists per game for NIA Prep in New Jersey, he skyrocketed up the recruiting rankings, earning the four-star mantle from Rivals and Scout. When a player like that comes to town, big things are going to be the assumption. Just because Thomas never lived up to the lofty standards set for him, it doesn't mean he wasn't an important player for the Cincinnati Bearcats for four years.

Name the last player to come to Cincinnati under Mick Cronin and be a scoring force right away and you'll be naming the first. Even Sean Kilpatrick put up just 9.7 points per game as a freshman. Thomas, who was never going to be the top offensive option for the Bearcats, still did decently in the scoring department. He averaged at least six points per game during his last three seasons and shot above 47 percent in each of those campaigns as well. He even posted true shooting percentages flirting with the .500 level after his freshman season and worked in a 3-point shot as a senior, boosting his 3-point attempt rate to a career-best .233. Prior to that, he had never gone above .100.

Another major roadblock for Thomas ws the foul line.  He knocked down less 50 percent of his free throw attempts as a freshmen and although he got better, he was never effective enough to be a dangerous slasher, finishing with an even 60 percent success rate for his career. Its a tough spot to be in because he was never a knockdown jump shot guy, so being a bit of a toss up when he got fouled trying to score around the rim didn't help his offensive standing.

The toughest stretch of Thomas' career as a scorer and player overall (outside of his freshmen year) came in the second half of his final season. With Jacob Evans breathing down his neck and an injury slowing him a bit, he registered just 4.9 points per game to go with a true shooting percentage of .448 and an effective field goal percentage of .434 in conference play. As a junior, he was much better, posting true shooting (.562) and effective field goal (.550) percentages that flirted with an elite level. Even with the slow down during the end of 2016, Thomas still finished with the second-highest offensive rating of his career (103.1) as a senior.

But what about defense? Glad you asked. Thomas was consistent in locking down opposing players. He never had fewer than 1.7 defensive win shares in any season besides his freshmen year, including a career-best 2.4 set as a sophomore. His length and aggression on that side undoubtedly kept guards and forwards of opponents in check. The versatility to guard multiple positions is also something that a number can't be assigned to but its something Thomas offered.

The Best of the Best

Friday March 22, 2013 vs. Creighton

Thomas certainly enjoyed his first time dancing, as he scored a then career-high 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting in a 67-63 loss to Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Sunday January 26, 2014 at Temple

During one of 11 double-digit scoring games of the season, Thomas poured in 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting to go with four rebounds before fouling out. He played 32 minutes in this one, the second-most minutes he would play in a single game that year.

Saturday December 21, 2015 at Houston

In a scoring effort tied for the best of his career, Thomas hit 5-of-8 shots from the floor and was uncharacteristically effective at the free-throw line (7-of-8) to finish with 18 points.

Friday March 13, 2015 vs. Connecticut

This wasn't a big scoring day for Thomas (10 points) but he pulled down seven rebounds and blocked two shots during a rock fight with the Huskies.

Sunday December 6, 2015 vs. Morgan State

Thomas came the closest he ever would to turning in a double-double, scoring 15 points to go with nine rebounds as well as four assists.

Another area in which the Bearcats will be lacking without Thomas is the dunking department. The 6-foot-7 forward was always good for a highlight real slam.

There was the time he windmilled and dabbed all over Robert Morris.

When he scraped the sky against Nebraska.

When he put an exclamation mark on the end of a fast break against Kentucky. No big deal.

When he made Steph Curry's warmup shots look like nothing.

And last but not least, when he stuffed Myles Davis in a locker.

A Final Goodbye

When it comes down to it, Thomas was much more important to this team than the numbers might suggest. Sure, he didn't become an All-American and throw up 20 points per game, but UC has made a habit of having depth with a couple handfuls of guys that do multiple things. Thomas fits that mold and for that reason, not to mention the fact that he went to the NCAA Tournament every year he was on campus, his time at UC should be deemed more of a success than a bust.