State Of The Hogs

Sometimes we don't really know the whole story. We watch a game and think, "That guy should have done this or that." We second-guess his every move. Then we find out the rest of the story and think, "Wow, he played that well with all that on his mind!"

That's the deal with Charles Thomas, the freshman forward with the Arkansas basketball team. What he's been dealing with the last month was finally revealed in the last couple of days. I'm amazed he's done so well.

Thomas did not return from the Christmas break on Sunday with the rest of his teammates. Instead, he stayed with his girlfriend, Kristen Hardaway, as she battled with the premature birth of their first child in Jackson, Miss. Mariah Nicole Thomas came into the world Tuesday at 4 pounds, 12 ounces, one month early.

"The doctors told us that the baby was having trouble and needed to come early," Thomas said Thursday after rejoining the Hogs earlier in the day. "I've been so worried. It's been weighing heavy on my mind. The doctor didn't know if the baby was going to be OK or not. I haven't been able to sleep."

You could tell it in the way Thomas played just before Christmas. After scoring 15 and 12 points against Tennessee State and Prairie View A&M, Thomas had only 6 and 7 against Lipscomb and Hartford before heading home. In those final two games before the break, he committed five turnovers. He'd committed only 14 in his previous nine games.

"Charles had been struggling before the break, but you can see a lot of relief in him since he's been back today," said Stan Heath, the Arkansas coach. "I think he'll be much better with that off his mind."

Thomas said his teammates and coaches have been great during the birth of his child. He said coaches supported his plan to stay with his girlfriend during the birth. Teammates have given him a little teasing upon his return, but all in the right way.

"Ronnie Brewer and Darian Townes gave it to me pretty good," Thomas said. "Coach Heath called me Big Pappa. It's been cool. I told them, 'Don't have any children!'" Really, it's awesome. She's got my nose and ears, but fortunately everything else looks like my girlfriend."

Thomas joined Kristen for the entire birth process, walking her into the delivery room at 5 a.m. Mariah Nicole was born at 8 p.m. He's glad he went to the delivery room, but got more than a little queasy in the stomach several times.

"I'd do it again, but I made the mistake of looking down there," Thomas said. "I hadn't eaten all day, but I still almost lost what I had. Just look at the (mother's) face, nothing else. I'm telling you that for sure.

"I didn't know it was going to take that long, but I never left (Kristen's) side. Next time, I'm going to eat during the day. It was a long, long day, but I'm so happy. Kristen is doing great and so is Mariah Nicole."

Thomas is sporting the wrist bracelet that identifies his daughter when they took her to the nursery.

"This was what they put on her to make sure we got the right baby," he said. "She's beautiful and so healthy. I'm so happy."

How will he play Friday night?

"Oh, I've been off for 10 days and that's a long time," Thomas said. "I'm sure I've lost some wind, but I did go to the YMCA to work on some drills and to run. I'm just so happy. I'm ready and I think I can jump over the goal. I've got fresh legs and I'm excited. I'm thankful for the support from my teammates and coaches. It's a family. I want to thank Coach Heath."

Heath is glad to have Thomas back. The Hogs didn't play especially well on defense in a 73-67 tight fit Wednesday against Jacksonville State and they also missed Thomas.

"We miss his skill," Heath said. "He can match up with a lot of different players on defense and he has the ability to handle the ball and shoot it on offense. He is very versatile on offense and defense.

"I know he probably lost some of his wind from being gone so long, but I'm leaning on putting him back in the starting lineup. He didn't do anything wrong. We put out a plan for him and he abided by and did what we asked. But, we will probably have to sub a little quicker for him."

Thomas said he kept up with the game Wednesday via the Internet.

"That was scary," Thomas said. "I'm glad they pulled through."

Still, it wasn't as scary as what he went through the day before.

"That was a big thing," Thomas said. "I'm just so happy."

CLAY HENRY IS THE PUBLISHER OF HAWGS ILLUSTRATED, A STEPHENS MEDIA GROUP PUBLICATION. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH FRIDAY. E-MAIL: CLAY@NWAONLINE.NET

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