Thomas Has Mastered The Art

FAYETTEVILLE — The giggling begins immediately after Charles Thomas' 235-pound body thumps onto the floor in Bud Walton Arena.

Vincent Hunter can't help it. Neither can Sonny Weems or Cyrus McGowan.

Those three Razorbacks know the value of Thomas' actions.

They realize the game-changing effect of his defense. But they can't help but lose control of their laughter when Thomas draws a charge in practice.

"Man, those guys let me hear it every day," Thomas said. "They see how important it is for me to practice taking charges. But that does not stop them from cracking jokes."

Thomas' charge-inducing abilities may humor several of his teammates. Opponents aren't laughing, though.

In 21 games this season, Thomas has drawn a team-high 19 charges. Thomas also led the team in offensive fouls drawn during his freshman and sophomore seasons, proving he truly has mastered the art of taking the charge.

To the junior from Jackson, Miss., there's nothing to it: Anticipate the drive, get to the spot, stick out the chest, draw the contact and fall back hard.

The louder the crash to the floor, Thomas said, the better. And all of that, executed in the blink of an eye, has turned a game's momentum numerous times in Thomas' career.

"It's like a Steven Hill blocked shot," Arkansas coach Stan Heath said. "It's the same thing. The team feeds off it, and the fans seem to get fired up about it."

Even Thomas chuckles about it sometimes, especially when he recalls why he started taking charges in the first place.

As a sophomore at Callaway High, Thomas couldn't have cared less about defensive accomplishments. He cared far more about scoring points and snaring rebounds. In truth, he felt the same about defensive toughness during his senior season at Callaway. "Let's put it this way," Heath said with a chuckle. "I never saw him take one in high school."

Well, that's because Heath didn't see Thomas play his junior year. Thomas transferred to Lanier High for one season, his junior season, and coach Thomas Billups had a rule.

Billups' mandate was not up for negotiation, no matter the player's talent, no matter the player's attitude.

"You had to take charges," Thomas said. "If you didn't take charges, you got put on the bench and you just didn't play. It was a requirement to get one charge per game. "I just took it from there."

His knack for drawing charges has grown immensely ever since.

Thomas credits film study and experience. Thomas scouts his opponents before every game, intricately searching for tips.

For instance, Thomas knows Alabama's Jermareo Davidson "is going to dip is shoulder before he makes a move."

He has picked up on similar tells, as a poker player might see it, for players on each team Arkansas plays.

In addition, Thomas has taken to a role as a charge educator. Freshman Patrick Beverley ranks a distant second in offensive fouls drawn for the Hogs. But he intently watches Thomas' footwork, often mimicking his tendencies when stepping in front of barreling post players.

"Charles has taught me all about it," Beverley said. "He's amazing at it. He knows exactly how to position himself to get the call."

Thomas swears he doesn't flop. Hunter, Weems and McGowan laugh at that suggestion. Heath, on the other hand, refuses to call Thomas' antics flopping.

"He may sell the call sometimes," Heath said. "But he's always taking contact."

That's evidenced in the favorable calls Thomas usually receives.

More times than not, a hard collision with an opponent and subsequently with the floor usually results in a whistle.

When Thomas looks up, he usually sees a referee putting one hand behind his head and pointing the other way with the other one.

In practice, some of his teammates laugh. In games, they smack him on the backside.

"Even though it's funny, you can't deny that he's a specialist at taking charges," Hunter said.



WEDNESDAY'S TICKET

AUBURN AT ARKANSAS

WHEN: 7:05 p.m.

WHERE: Bud Walton Arena

TV: KHOG (Ch. 7)

RADIO: KXIO-FM 106.9; KEZA-FM 107.9; KKEG-FM 92.1; KFPW-AM 1230; KQBK-FM 104.7; KHGG-AM 1580; KHGG-FM 103.1; KDYN-AM 1540; KDYN-FM 96.7; KTTG-FM 96.3

RECORDS: Auburn 14-10, 4-5 Southeastern Conference; Arkansas 14-8, 3-5

HEAD COACHES: Auburn, Jeff Lebo (third season); Arkansas, Stan Heath (fifth season)



Thomas Still Questionable For Wednesday

Arkansas forward Charles Thomas participated in practice Monday for the first time since partially dislocating his right shoulder on Jan. 27 at Alabama.

His status for Wednesday's game at home against Auburn still is unknown.

"(Charles) has to go through contact and practice," Razorbacks coach Stan Heath said. "If he can take the hits, he'll be out there (Wednesday). He was able to extend his arm all the way on Friday, so the issue was getting hit and responding. He took Sunday off, but he has been going through light strength training and has been doing a lot of shooting."


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