There is a proverb that says that within uncertainty lies prosperity. Every now and then, a professional team will take a chance on an unknown player and hope that their wildcard ends up being an ace.
In the Suns camp this week, the one player that seems to fit that bill is Doug Thomas. Thomas first came to my attention during the informal morning workouts when he seemed to dunk everything in sight.
After a ridiculous tip-jam, I turned to former Sun Mark West to find out who he was. West immediately busted my chops for not inquiring about the guy who set the great screen or made a nifty backdoor cut.
All respect due to guys who provide the intangibles, but there’s just something about thunderous dunks at 9 a.m. that garners my attention. West informed me that the high-flyer was Doug Thomas and that he played at Iowa.
Once I saw that he was invited to camp, I found out that he played in the first division of the Swiss professional leagues. Making a jump from Switzerland to the NBA is like going from Single A to the Yankees. So it perked my interest.
Thomas showed flashes of brilliance at Iowa, but never received the kind of consistent playing time one would expect after finishing a stellar career at Southeastern Community College. At Southeastern, he started on a squad that won back-to-back titles.
So how did the Suns stumble upon Thomas?
“Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin was on top of him and talked with his agent and he came in early just to work out and caught everyone’s eye with his athleticism, shooting touch and ability to play our tempo,” Assistant General Manager Vinny Del Negro said. “We needed another big guy and he was a nice kid, so I think it was a good fit.”
After doing some research, I happened upon a slew of videos on-line that displayed the kind of athleticism I saw at the practice court. His highlight reel from college was pretty impressive and so was his jam against Arizona State. But the video that stood out the most was when he broke the world’s record for the highest leap.
Check out LB’s facial expression in the bottom right corner. It says it all.
Besides Thomas, former Maverick and Pacer Rawle Marshall and journeyman Richie Frahm were the last three players invited to camp by the Suns. Frahm once scored 30 points as a rookie for the Sonics and Marshall registered 16 points in a game for the Pacers last season. Whereas these guys have donned an NBA uniform, Tuesday was literally the first NBA practice of Thomas’ life.
So what does a front office look for in guys they invite to camp?
“David (Griffin), Director of Scouting Todd (Quinter), the rest of the scouting department and I look at a bunch of guys,” Del Negro added. “We look for guys who can play our style and fill some niches and we feel in training camp they have the opportunity to show us what they can do and we get a chance to get some hands-on experience with them.”
The gravity-defying Thomas is just relishing his opportunity.
“I came in with the mindset to just work hard,” he said. “Nothing is guaranteed for me right now and I think they see that I want to learn.
“I am not trying to take anyone’s spot, I am just trying to work my way onto the team. The Suns are a great team with great people and a great coaching staff.
Thomas was really impressed by the way General Manager Steve Kerr and Del Negro “welcomed him with open arms.” He says that all of the coaches and players have gone out their way to make him feel comfortable.
“I take criticism well and I am willing to learn,” added Thomas. “I like it here and I feel that the Suns’ system fit my style of play.”
Although it is unlikely that the Suns will carry more than the 13 players they have now, Del Negro believed that coming to camp was a good opportunity for someone like Thomas, who could show the Suns his ability and stay on their radar in case a role needs to be filled down the road.
Although Thomas would love to make the team, he is also appreciating the moment.
“My high school coaches, college coaches and the NBA players I grew up with haven’t even heard I am here,” he said. “I can’t wait to they hear about this.”