Thomas steps up play as MSU career nears its end
With three games left in the regular season, as well as the Big Ten tournament and NCAA Tournament on the horizon, the final chapter has yet to be written on this year’s MSU women’s basketball team.
If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that senior guard Jasmine Thomas will have a hand in whatever shakes out for the Spartans this season.
Prior to the one-point loss to Michigan on Feb. 16, Thomas had a moment of realization: her time in Green and White is coming to an end. A sit-down with head coach Suzy Merchant and time spent reflecting led Thomas to understand she had to elevate her performance both on the court and as a leader.
Against the Wolverines, she logged a career-high 21 points and followed up with an outstanding all-around performance in a win against Northwestern on Wednesday with 10 points, three assists, three steals, six rebounds and three blocks, two of which came against Northwestern forwards standing at or above 6 feet 5-inches.
“She’s been doing it,” Merchant said after the win against the Wildcats.
“I said in the locker room after the game that I would love to go back in time and play with Jasmine Thomas. I would be the first player to chest bump and high five her watching some of the stuff she does out there.”
Thomas described her new approach in the season’s homestretch as “a different level of determination.”
Aside from her on-court production, the biggest change she’s made is becoming a more vocal leader on the court. When Merchant comes down on players in practice, Thomas keeps them level-headed as the self-described “calming presence.”
“She leads by example better than she does vocally,” sophomore forward Becca Mills said. “When she gets tips and steals and ignites us on defense and ignites our offense, I think that’s what really gets us rolling and we all jump on board with her.”
Midway through the season, Merchant openly spoke about the need for the senior class — meaning Thomas and forward Courtney Schiffauer — to step up and shoulder the load from a leadership standpoint when adversity struck. The sixth-year coach is pleased with how the captain from Flint has responded as of late, now she wants the rest of the team to match Thomas’ level.
“It’s just something more this team needs to be that team we were in the beginning … just little things we can do to fine-tune things,” Thomas said. “I just felt like me as a senior and being experienced and (a) captain is kind of — I’m taking it upon myself to be that.”
Coaches repeatedly talk about wanting to peak near the end of the regular season to gear up for a deep post-season run.
That can’t be said about the entire MSU team right now, but Thomas is unquestionably playing her best basketball of the season — and possibly her career. If she can inspire the same degree of urgency throughout the roster, MSU will hit its stride at the right time.
“It definitely makes me feel good, but I don’t want to be the only one. I want to be able to be there fighting with my team. … It’s definitely another level
we can all pick up,” Thomas said.