Analyzing Isaiah Thomas' legacy with UW basketball
At 5 feet 9 inches, Isaiah Thomas defied conventional wisdom and ranks sixth on UW's scoring list with 1,721 points.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Thomas' career highsPoints: 30 vs. Wright State, Nov. 13, 2009
Three-pointers: 6, vs. California, Feb. 20, 2011
FTs: 14, vs. Wright State, Nov. 13, 2009
Rebounds: 9 vs. Stanford, March 12, 2009
Assists: 13, at California, Jan. 16, 2011
Steals: 5, two times
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Isaiah Thomas understood what was wrong with Washington men's basketball before he played his first game with the Huskies.
"Something is missing," he said in a November 2008 interview. "I don't know when or how it happened, but we lost our swagger."
It was a bold statement for a freshman, but Thomas was no ordinary freshman.
That's obvious now that his Washington career is officially over, but it wasn't always apparent back then.
Despite the fanfare that came with being a heralded recruit from nearby Curtis High in Tacoma, Thomas was something of an enigma on and off the court.
He defied descriptions most of his UW career. Labels were limiting. Thomas chafed whenever anyone called him a shooting guard, and the term point guard was never entirely accurate.
"I'm a guard," he would say almost defiantly.
He is also 5 feet 9, which suggests he should pass more than he shoots.
Yet Thomas defied conventional wisdom and ranks sixth on UW's scoring list with 1,721 points.
No matter how many points he accumulated, he could never quiet the chorus of critics who lamented his shot selection, unorthodox style and brash personality.
"He's a guy that was for the most part underappreciated for what he was really able to accomplish," UW basketball radio commentator Jason Hamilton said. "I also think he was one of the more polarizing players that has come through there in a long time.
"A lot of people didn't like his style of play, but yet he continued to help the program. You're talking about a guy that would have broke most of the records if he had returned. But I don't know if people view him in the same light as a Brandon Roy and a Detlef Schrempf and I think that's unfortunate."
Where does he rank in the pantheon of UW greats? Is he among the top three all-time players? Top five? Ten?
Had he returned to Washington, the debate would have been much easier.
"Isaiah certainly ranks up there among the best we've had," coach Lorenzo Romar said. "If he stayed his senior year, like some of the other guys, he ends up being the leader all-time in assists and scoring.
"That would have put him in a high, high class by himself in terms of productivity. But again, guys that have produced have done it in different ways. In the way he's done it, he's been pretty special."
Thomas takes on the legacy question as if he was driving to the rim against a would-be defender.
"I hope that when they look back I hope they feel like I played every game like it was my last," he said when he declared for the NBA draft. "Played my heart out.
"The only thing I want to be known as is a winner. You can hate on my basketball game, you can say what you want about anything in my life or anything on the basketball court, but I came here and won basketball games."
Before Thomas arrived, Washington hadn't played in the NCAA tournament the previous two years and stumbled into Pac-10 mediocrity.
The Huskies posted a 16-17 record following the 2007-08 season, which prompted Thomas to say UW had lost the swagger that personified its NCAA tournament teams from 2004 to 2006.
"My goal is to get the team back to the NCAA tournament," he said as a freshman. "That's the biggest goal. Get that and build from there."
In the past three years, the Huskies made three trips to the NCAA tournament, including three first-round wins and a Sweet 16 appearance in 2010. Washington also won its first outright Pac-10 regular-season title and two conference tournament championships.
With Thomas at the helm, the Huskies posted a 76-30 record. It's the second-most wins over a three-year span in the history of UW basketball. Only the 1951-53 teams won more games (77).
He's one of two players to win two Pac-10 tournament Most Outstanding Player awards.
Last season Thomas became the first person since 2006 to score at least 20 points and distribute at least 10 assists in consecutive games.
Thomas played all but 90 seconds of three Pac-10 tournament games. In the 2011 championship game, he drained a step-back jumper at the buzzer that sealed the overtime victory.
"As great as he was when the spotlight was on him, he's even better behind the scenes," said UW assistant Raphael Chillious, who coached Thomas two years at a prep school in Connecticut. "Even though he's leaving, he's still saying 'we' when he talks about the team. That to me says everything about the guy. He loves Washington."
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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