Thomas content to play his role

When a conference championship team returns four of five starters, newcomers--no matter how talented--don't expect to step right in and star. <br><br>But that's okay with junior wing man Emmett Thomas. "I try to spend most of my energy on defense," he explained.

"I'm not going out there trying to score at will," Thomas continued. "I'm trying to look for the main players, Mo, Dudley, K-Walker and them."

In Monday's victory over MTSU, Thomas' run down of key Tiders proved true. Point guard Mo Williams scored 14. Last year's SEC Player of the Year, Erwin Dudley, led all scorers with 17. And working inside and out, Mr. Versatile Kenny Walker contributed 14 more.

Thomas had a good night as well, totaling 12 points--all on three-point baskets.

But with that many proven offensive players, more than anything else this year the Tide needed an unselfish athlete, willing to play his role. "Coach Gottfried tells me that mainly my role is to play defense," Thomas said. "My jumper will be there, but I'm not trying to go out and just score. It wasn't hard finding a role. It wasn't difficult at all.

Thomas is a very good shooter, but for now his main role is to provide defense off the bench.

"I'm waiting for the game to come to me."

"Emmett shot the ball well, but he also did a good job on the defensive end," Gottfried pointed out. "I think he can be a guy that can defend perimeter guys. He's doing a lot of things. He's rebounding the ball well and feeding the post. He got the ball to Erwin a couple of times (last night), so he's giving us some really good minutes right now."

A star for John Carroll High School in Birmingham, Thomas wanted to sign with Alabama out of high school, but the Tide didn't have an available scholarship. He spent one season at South Alabama, before transferring to Bevill State junior college. The Tide coaches didn't let their second chance to sign Thomas go by.

Because of his past experience, Thomas has had little problems handling the transition. "Having played as a freshman at South Alabama, I played against Auburn and Indiana," he said. "I know you have to compete at this level. I just tried to come in ready to compete. My teammates work hard every day in practice. I don't want to be a slacker, so I came in working hard. You've got to have heart."

Standing 6-4 and with the long arms of an athlete, Thomas presents match-up problems for most guards. "I think Emmett is one of our better perimeter defenders," Gottfried said. "He's tall and quick. He's got a little size to him. When you get ready for this conference, you've got to have some guys that can defend wing players I think Emmett is one of those guys."

But Thomas is more than a defensive specialist. Last season at Bevill State he averaged 19 points per game. His shooting stats included 75 percent from the free throw line, 58 percent on field goals and 44 percent from beyond the three-point arc.

With Dudley, Williams and Walker (especially Dudley and Williams), the Tide has proven stars, capable of scoring consistently. But an extra offensive threat can be invaluable.

Having competed against big-time competition during his year at South Alabama, Thomas is ready to step in immediately and play for the Tide.

Gottfried explained, "I feel like Mo is going to score points, and I want him to. He's going to run the team and distribute the ball, but he's got to be able to make baskets. We depend on Erwin as well. As Kenny steps up--(Terrance) Meade or Earnest (Shelton) or Emmett or whoever it may be to give us a third or fourth scorer--then we become a team that's tough to defend.

"The more the scorers, the more it opens up for the other guys."

As defenses collapse inside to contain Dudley and Walker, athletes will inevitably be open on the perimeter. Monday night Thomas drained four three-pointers from behind the arc. "When I hit those threes, it felt good; I was in a groove," he recalled. "Every time I let it go, I felt confident. You've got to feel confident.

"I need to take it more to the rack, but I just came off of shoulder surgery, so I'm riding my jumper right now."

Once true freshman Kennedy Winston becomes eligible, the Tide will add another big-time scorer to its offensive attack. At that point its likely that Thomas will assume the role of swing man, subbing at both small forward and shooting guard as needed.

But whether raining down threes or playing shut-down defense, Thomas is ready for his role. "If I'm open, I just let it go," he said. "They happened to fall down (last night). But I immediately got back on defense. That's mainly what I'm trying to concentrate on the most."

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