Jasmine Thomas knew time was running out.
After being everything from a starter to not playing by coach’s decision, Thomas has seen it all during her four years on campus, and with sophomore guard Kiana Johnson suspended and injuries to seemingly the entire roster mounting by the minute, Thomas knows that for the first time, the greatest responsibility for the MSU women’s basketball team’s success falls on her shoulders.
Thomas led the Spartans with 16 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals in a 74-35 blowout of Saginaw Valley State in MSU’s exhibition opener Thursday night, providing the poise and presence head coach Suzy Merchant said her senior guard will need to regularly display for the Spartans to be successful.
“It kind of brings back that feeling back to freshman year; coming in fresh, fresh new start,” Thomas said.
“Senior year you’ve got a lot on your shoulders just as far as this being your last year, trying to see what legacy you want to leave.”
Merchant said Thursday was one of Thomas’ better performances since arriving at MSU, but it hasn’t always been an easy road for the Flint, Mich. native.
After beginning last season in the starting lineup and hitting a buzzer beating 3-pointer to send a game into overtime, Thomas went through a stretch where she shot 26 percent from the floor, averaged less than five points a game, was removed from the starting lineup and saw nearly all of her playing time disappear.
Missing shots she would normally make and struggling to find her role, Thomas said she battled confidence issues, a problem she spent the entire offseason working to reduce, and after Thursday night’s game, both Merchant and Thomas agreed that the senior guard is the most confident she’s ever been.
“That’s been key. That’s been the most influential factor,” Thomas said. “I think confidence was my problem, but definitely having that now, it just gives me that calm presence and knowing that I know what I need to do.
“(I) just really (tried) to figure out what I was doing wrong; just trying to get everything back.”
Thomas’ extra work was noticeable before the Spartans ever took the floor, prompting her teammates to her a captain, with sophomore center Jasmine Hines describing it as “a transformation.”
“This summer, she really stepped up, being more vocal,” Hines said. “I mean, she’s never really been a vocal person, but when it comes to basketball she’ll step outside her box and speak out more. She’s really been doing a nice job of talking to us. … Stepping up and being that leader, doing the little things has really been noticeable to everyone. She’s made a big change and I think that’s going to help us a lot.”
Still for Merchant, the true test of her senior will come over time, when she finds out if Thomas has conquered her confidence issues and mastered consistency.
“I think for right now what she’s seeing is maybe a little bit of the freeing of the mind,” Merchant said.
“I thought she was extremely confident today. It was as confident as I’ve seen her. Now it’s about maintaining that confidence. And confidence comes from drawing on all the hours of preparation. That’s where confidence comes from. And whenever you doubt yourself you’ve got to take yourself back to the 20,000 shots you shot in the summer and all the tough runs you had, the lifts, and you go right back to all your preparation. It’s easy to get confidence when you know you’re prepared.”