Thomas Pushing The Summer Season Pace

It's certainly not a footwear fashion statement, and given his druthers Fred Thomas would rather not drag that heavy boot around with his left foot. What matters, is this is just temporary to Thomas. "It's doing good," he said. "It ain't nothing major."

Which is an encouraging word from this source. Because Thomas is one of the linchpins to Mississippi State's second season under Rick Ray, and bringing Bulldog basketball back to competitiveness. Sight of him Tuesday wearing the thigh-high protective wrapping and metal base should rattle anyone connected with the program.

Fortunately Thomas downplays this midsummer setback.

"I had a stress fracture. We had an early morning workout Friday, I jumped over a hurdle and came down on the side of it and tweaked it a little bit." Once the issue was identified over the weekend, out came the boot with orders to wear it.

"I just got in it like two days ago, so I've been doing everything," said Thomas. "Like lifting, working out. Now I'm just lifting to try to stay off (the foot)."

Well, not entirely. Keeping this sophomore off his feet for long would require a lot more than a stress fracture or protective boot. And anyway, longtime Mississippi State strength coach Richard Akins is not one to let gimpy Dogs have it easy. So whatever Thomas can do in the weightroom or conditioning drills without stressing the left foot, get after it fella.

Not that any kick-starting is required. "I still plan on getting better, it can't stop me. I feel everybody is getting better."

‘Everybody' being most of the listed 18-man Mississippi State roster for the coming winter. A few of them aren't present at this early July moment yet, awaiting the second summer semester; some are still recovering from last year's injuries; and one, De'Runnya Wilson, has his first obligation to football, his scholarship sport.

Still there are more than enough healthy and healing bodies available that this summer the Bulldogs can actually divvy-up in workable groups for the NCAA's allowed four-on-one workouts. It's not always the full four of course; center Gavin Ware for now is on his own for example, doing drills against a couple of assistant coaches. Forwards Colin Borchert and Rocquez Johnson have to operate as a twosome.

As for Thomas, "It's me, Andre Applewhite, and Jalen Steele." Which is not exactly a full-health group obviously, but just fine for this summer point. It doesn't keep Thomas from working on an interesting to-do list of ambitions for the sophomore season.

"Over this whole summer I plan to be a better basketball player. I want to become more of a defensive player type guy, be more aggressive, and get stronger."

Taking those items in no particular order, Thomas ought to be a fine defender. He's got the body with long arms and good hands; his quickness is nigh-explosive; and his attitude should make him quite the ball-hawk. In fact his 56 steals as a freshmen were most on the team, by one ahead of classmate Craig Sword.

Thing is, so much of his statistical success on defense was on ability and instinct. That often isn't enough at this level where everyone is quick, strong, and so on. So Thomas is taking the hard lessons taught by older and better SEC guards last winter and applying them this summer. "Like on-ball defense. Basically the only thing you can do is get on the ball, stay with it, keep your head on the ball."

As for the stronger part, that meant getting bigger. Thomas today proudly reports "I'm almost at the 200 mark!" Which isn't a huge gain as he enrolled at a listed freshman 191 pounds. But the lbs. have been redistributed as his workout shirt shows, and making it to an even 200 means something to Thomas…even if, he admits, he never thought he'd be told to gain weight in college.

"I've got to eat like crazy and keep lifting. A lot of fried food, deserts, basically everything." Need it be noted that this calorie requirement is the envy of many a teammate? Take Ware, who is striving to get under 270 at the moment and must watch every crumb while Thomas is wolfing down the greasy stuff. "Yeah, he can't eat that!" grinned Thomas. Nor does the coaching staff have to count his intake either. "They don't track it, they trust in me to eat a lot. And I do."

And thirdly, there is upgrading his game. It helps having more teammates for both formal group-practices and unsupervised pickup games, for sure. Where last year's limited roster would run down, now the Bulldogs can just plain run the court all afternoon. And evening. Shooting guard Thomas is particularly pleased with newcomer I.J. Ready, the freshman point guard.

"I.J. is pretty good. He's got a motor, I like playing with guy that." Especially when the one-guy distributes to two-man Thomas for the shot. That, of course, will be slowed for a bit now by the foot.

But not stopped, not at all. "It's tough to practice the shot," Thomas admitted. "Only thing I can do is really free throws." No bad thing that as he was under 80% as a rookie at the stripe. Obviously though the number Thomas cares most about is improving his jump-shooting. It is often commented that the ball leaves his hand so prettily everyone is surprised when it doesn't drop.

At least that is observer comment; his coach is more blunt, Ray saying Thomas never saw a shot he didn't want to take. Thomas understands continued freedom to fire depends on production now that the roster is filling-out.

"I do have to be more selective, because my percentage (23.6 on three-pointers) was kinda bad last year. I needs to go up next year."

Ray and club are confident it will, because the ability is obviously there to make shots. And steal balls, deflect passes, chase down long rebounds, and basically be a sparkplug for the whole squad. Sure, it can get out of control sometimes. Still, "I don't feel I need to slow down, that's what gets the team going, energy!" So as Thomas said, his trick is translating more of that energy into production.

"They want to me a much better player. They say I have a lot of potential and I believe I really do."

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