We’ve known since he set foot on the Stan Sheriff Center court three months ago in a powerful debut that forward Joston Thomas was capable of putting up big points for the University of Hawaii men’s basketball team.
Yesterday, he also signaled an ability to grasp and accept some key ones.
Namely that the Rainbow Warriors have gotten to a 15-10 record as a team and, however their numbers might dwindle, they firmly intend to continue as one.
That’s been an important, though hardly universally embraced, concept in a season in which two players, Anthony Salter and Jordan Coleman, departed in December in apparent huffs over playing time.
The multitalented 6-foot, 7-inch, 235-pound Thomas, who is third on the team in scoring (10.4 points per game) and rebounding (5.8), would have been, by far, the biggest loss had he, after a week’s absence from the team, chosen to follow them to the exit.
But it was a setback, even as UH hits the prime-time portion of its schedule, the Warriors were apparently prepared to accept rather than alter their stance.
Officially, Thomas’ absence yesterday at practice and in Saturday’s victory at UC Davis and some practices leading up to it was described by head coach Gib Arnold as "a personal issue," a term the coach also employed during Salter’s limbo.
The interpretation this time was that there had been a disconnect between Thomas and Arnold over playing time that came to a head with the Nevada game a week before.
As a result, you suspect Thomas’ absence was a "timeout" of sorts to allow him to reflect on the situation and commitment.
Arnold did little to dispel the notion, saying he requires everybody to "play as a team." Said Arnold: "There are some things he’s working through. Joston has not done anything wrong. He has not broken any rules. He goes to class."
Clearly, however, there had initially been a clashing of the minds instead of a meeting of them after the brevity of Thomas’ appearance in the overtime victory over Nevada. It was a game Thomas, who had been averaging 26 minutes per game, started but ended up mostly watching from the bench after 9 minutes of playing time produced two turnovers and no points.
The performance underlined the occasional perplexing nature of Thomas’ season to this point. On his best nights he brings crowd-appealing, unbridled passion and ferocity to the court as his dunks and rebounding attest.
On less-than-stellar outings, however, he has trouble harnessing that energy and playing within the structure, turning the ball over (a team-leading 76 times in 24 games) or disappearing.
With the kind of effort he put forth vs. San Jose State (14 points, 14 rebounds and just two turnovers) two weeks ago Thomas has shown he can help the resurgent ‘Bows in their bid for the postseason. It is a march that takes on increasing importance with the final two regular-season home games Thursday (Louisiana Tech) and Saturday (New Mexico State).
When he signed with UH, Thomas was heralded as a potential "impact player" for UH. It took but one game, an 18-point and six-rebound effort in the opener, to validate that billing.
Which is why it would have been a shame for all concerned if the way Thomas left against Nevada had been our last glimpse of him going out the door.
Thankfully, it won’t come to that because Arnold made his point and Thomas got it.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.