Irish Lose Game; Point Guard Next?

Despite the one-sided loss to Arizona Thursday night, Chris Thomas was chipper while discussing the prospects of Notre Dame's basketball team next season. But Mike Brey says you can't count on the sophomore point guard returning for the 2003-04 campaign. IrishEyes Magazine Managing Editor Alan Tieuli has the report from Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

March 27, 2003

Irish Left to Ponder
Future Without Thomas

By Alan Tieuli
IrishEyes Magazine

ANAHEIM, Calif. (IE) – What is more unsettling, getting soundly beat by Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen or the prospect that you may have seen Chris Thomas' last game in a Notre Dame uniform? 

The sophomore point guard will investigate the process of declaring early for the NBA Draft over the next several weeks. It may lead to nothing, particularly since most feel Thomas' total game is not ready for the next level.  But, as head coach Mike Brey said with complete sincerity, "Who knows what can happen?  You just never know with kids in this age of college basketball." 

Thomas scored 20 points and had five assists in Notre Dame's humbling 88-71 loss to top-seed Arizona Thursday night in an NCAA Tournament West Regional semifinal.  But the sophomore also had seven turnovers and was dramatically outplayed by his Indianapolis counterpart, Arizona senior point guard Jason Gardner. 

Almost two years to the day, Gardner – as a Wildcat sophomore – declared for the NBA Draft.  He ultimately pulled his name out and will end his career as only the third Arizona player to score more than 2,000 career points.  And he has a legitimate shot at being on a national championship team. 

Will Thomas, who said he was Gardner's "heir" while growing up in the Circle City, follow Gardner's lead and just put a toe in the water?  Or will he make the NBA plunge right away and leave Notre Dame with an uncertain future? 

"I'll leave those questions to coach right now," Thomas said. "Him and I will sit down and talk about it." 

Minutes earlier, Thomas was typically upbeat during the formal news conference following the game, cracking one-liners about Torin Francis' new found three-point shooting ability.  He seemed to indicate a return to South Bend by saying "Hopefully coach will give us a couple of weeks off and then we get right into working on next season." 

Brey was seated to Thomas' right when he heard those words and warned not to read too much into the comment. 

"I don't think you can count on that," Brey said to IrishEyes when asked if he thought Thomas was locked in on returning. "A young man of his ability, the way it is now, we'll sit down and evaluate his future and how he wants to go about it.  I think he needs to leave some doors open and check out some options. 

"We talked about it a little bit.   He needs to explore it," Brey continued. "He owes it to himself to explore it.  He loves his teammates.  He looks at Torin and thinks we can be pretty good next year.  But I think it's something you go through in the spring.  We've gone through it before with Troy Murphy, and we will again this year." 

Murphy, excelling in his second NBA season with the Golden State Warriors – averaging a near-double in points and rebounds – left the Irish following his junior season, 2000-01.  He also weighed it heavily after his sophomore year. 

Senior guard Matt Carroll is a pretty sure bet to have his name called at the June 26 draft at Madison Square Garden. He was close to Murphy and also considers Thomas a good friend.  He said he'll be glad to play a part in Thomas' decision making process. 

"I want Chris to do what's best for Chris," Carroll told IrishEyes. "I'm not sure of that decision yet, and I guess he has to feel it out and see what's best. I'm going to be here to give him my advice and what I think is best for him.  I care about him and love him like a brother, so I'm going to try and help him as a friend."

Thomas has until May 12 to declare early and then can withdraw his name up to June 19, as long as he doesn't sign with an agent. 

Francis, who has a leg up on being an All-Big East performer next season after averaging 17.6 points and 12.6 rebounds in three NCAA Tournament games, has not discussed next year with his point guard. 

"We really haven't," he said. "We've been so focused on this year.  But definitely the next couple of weeks it will be on everybody's mind." 

Without Thomas, Notre Dame would likely turn to Chris Quinn as its full-time point guard in 2003-04.  With another daunting non-conference schedule and a potential realignment of the Big East, with each team playing every other school at least once, the Irish could be hard-pressed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament again. 

But perhaps this is all to do about nothing.   

"I see Chris being attracted to players like Gardner, (Michigan State's, former star) Mateen Cleaves, (Kentucky Top Stories