The Prince of St. Ed's is Top Rookie

You watch Chris Thomas in lay-up lines at the Joyce Center and you can just tell that this is a kid who loves Notre Dame. His coach confirmed it Tuesday night. The Big East Conference Rookie of the Year is happy in his dorm (hello Troy Murphy) and a star in the making, on and off the court. IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli reports from the annual Big East Conference pre-tournament bash in midtown.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com™

March 5, 2002

Thomas Wears
His Role Well

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service

NEW YORK (IE) Chris Thomas, now officially the Big East Conference Rookie of the Year, knows he is not just an attraction on the basketball court. It's important for him to have his "A" game when for the klieg lights and the microphones.

That's why he was dressed in an impeccable, understated three-button suit Tuesday night at the Grand Hyatt. That's why his acceptance speech was at times thoughtful, at times humorous, and clearly the best of the evening among the Award winners.

Chris Thomas has a presence, and he struck gold again on this night, both with the Rookie of the Year trophy and his overall presentation.

"I guess it's something I take notice of," Thomas told IrishEyes about his public speaking skills. "It's important to me to sound somewhat intellectual."

Thomas' acceptance speech saluted head coach Mike Brey for "doing a great job handling the team this year." Then the 19-year-old turned and looked at university President Monk Malloy and Athletic Director Kevin White – seated in the third row – and said to two of the most influential men on the Notre Dame campus, "Thank you for hiring him."

Thomas' selection marked the fourth consecutive year – and fifth in six seasons – that Notre Dame has had a major award recipient at the Big East's annual bash in midtown. Troy Murphy had taken home the hardware the past three years, once as Rookie of the Year and the past two seasons as the Player of the Year.

Caron Butler of Connecticut and Brandin Knight of Pittsburgh were named Co-Players of the Year. Providence's John Linehan earned his second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year. Knight was voted the Most Improved and the Panthers' Ben Howland, was the easy choice as Coach of the Year.

Though Butler is only a sophomore and Knight is a junior, it's easy to picture Thomas upgrading his hardware next year or the year after. And you should rest assured that he'll be around for at least one more season, if not the duration. This is a kid who loves Notre Dame.

"I asked him about a month ago, ‘How about next year do we get you a single at St. Ed's (Thomas' Residence Hall, St. Edward's) or somewhere? There will be distractions because you do have such a presence on campus'," Brey related. "The first thing he said was, ‘I don't want to leave St. Ed's.' He loves his dorm and the school."

How's that for a contrast with Murphy, who was not shy about bashing Notre Dame's Residence Halls? "He really hurt us with those comments the last two years," said one member of the Irish traveling party.

No worries about such comments from Thomas. Brey and his staff, knowing they have a mega-star in the making, spend time coaching Mr. Indiana on the importance of public presentation. "I show him game tapes and interview tapes," Brey said.

Brey acknowledges Thomas "is a lottery pick in the making and the reality is he may not be a four-year guy." But one gets the feeling this is not going to be a prolonged "will he go or will he stay" circus like it was with Murphy.

"The (NBA) lottery can be a goal for him, it's not a pipe dream," said Brey. "But he's got a ways to go."

And right now Thomas is loving life as a Notre Dame student and, this week, as a tourist in the City of Heroes.

"I want to go on the subway, go to MTV, do some shopping," Thomas, who until the St. John's game last week had never been to Gotham. "I heard that Julia Roberts does a lot of shopping in New York. I want to meet her."

Tuesday afternoon, Thomas and his teammates stood silently and solemnly on the roof of the Woolworth's building adjacent to Ground Zero. The body of a New York Firefighter was recovered during the team's visit.

"We were a part of history today," Thomas said. "They brought out a person months later. It makes you look at life and realize one second can change the way you do things."

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THE NOTEBOOK: Father Malloy is a surprise addition to Notre Dame's family in Manhattan this week. "He doesn't have anything formal on his agenda other than watching basketball," said Notre Dame associate A.D. and basketball administrator Jim Phillips. "He's a real throwback." White was in attendance also as he maintains his reputation as the most visible A.D. at Notre Dame since Moose Krause……Brey was in a playful mood after he learned that Pat Kennedy resigned at DePaul. "I got breaking news," he said. "Digger (Phelps) has that job. And when we play them next year, the game will be in our football stadium. I don't have to put that out there, though. Digger will probably put it out himself." When DePaul hired Kennedy, Phelps indicated that the Blue Demons' job was one of the few he would be interested in……When not preparing his team for the present, Brey is busy working the phones trying to find NBA camps for Ryan Humphrey and David Graves. "Hump is a lock for Portsmouth," said Brey. "But right now the Desert Classic is not on and that may mean some top guys will fall to Portsmouth, and that will affect Dave. We have some work to do for him."….Miami's John Salmons won the Big East's Sportsmanship Award while Virginia Tech's Carlton Carter was named top Scholar-Athlete….Knight is the only player to win Most Improved and Player of the Year in the same season. That was the only award IrishEyes did not correctly call. We thought Syracuse's Kueth Duany would earn it…..We're billeted in the same East Side hotel as Syracuse and about 60 West Virginia alumni who had chosen this week in Manhattan for their annual gathering. Back in October, when Jonathan Hargett was pre-season Rookie of the Year and the Mountaineers were lurking near the Top 25, it seemed like a good idea……Our predictions for the first day of the tournament: Boston College over Rutgers; Georgetown over Providence; Villanova over Syracuse; St. John's over Seton Hall. Notre Dame tips off Thursday at approximately 9:30 versus the winner of the latter game.

(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at aatandsonspr@aol.com)


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