Former Terps standout Alyssa Thomas adapting to life as a professional
By By Paul Pierre-Louis and The Baltimore Sun
Jul 23, 2014 | 10:09 PM
Maryland's victory song wasn't playing as Alyssa Thomas jogged onto the court at Verizon Center for pregame warm-ups, and she and her team weren't welcomed with a standing ovation from the crowd.
As a forward for the Connecticut Sun, Thomas is no longer greeted the way she was a few months ago when she was taking the floor at Comcast Center as the star of the Terps' women's basketball team.
"It's crazy how time flies," Thomas said after the Sun's 89-75 loss to the Washington Mystics on Wednesday afternoon.
Thomas is more than halfway through her rookie season in the WNBA, and though the forward is starting to adapt to life as a professional, returning to an area she once called home is still a nostalgic experience.
"I loved my time at Maryland," Thomas said. "All the fans that supported me when I played at Maryland come out and support here as well."
It was the second time she has returned to the area this season to face the Mystics, finishing with nine points and five rebounds. During Thomas' first homecoming June 27, Maryland coach Brenda Frese was in attendance with Thomas' former teammates and coaches, Frese said Tuesday, forming "a sea of red" in the crowd.
This time, however, the Terps weren't there. Additionally, it was Camp Day at the arena. Many of the announced 16,028 were a part of various summer camps, with each group donning a specific T-shirt and clapping thundersticks throughout the game.
Within the dominant camper presence were Thomas' mother, Tina Klotzbeecher-Thomas; her father, Bobby; and her younger sister Alexia.
Those three regularly attended Alyssa Thomas' home games when she was at Maryland, but have been to fewer than half her games this season.
"Now she's a professional. So we're not going to all the games," Klotzbeecher-Thomas said after Wednesday's game. "It's not like college, where we were at most of them."
The changes came quickly for Thomas. The New York Liberty selected her with the fourth pick in the WNBA draft before trading her to the Sun. Only a couple of weeks after leading the Terps to the Final Four in the NCAA tournament, Thomas became a part of a team that ended last season with the WNBA's worst record at 10-24.
This year, the Sun is 10-15, and Thomas has played a prominent role in the team's rotation. She has started 19 of its 25 games, averaging 8.9 points and 5.1 rebounds. Still, Thomas' role is different on the Sun than it was with the Terps. She doesn't lead fast breaks as much as she did, usually passing to a point guard after grabbing defensive rebounds.
"I don't have to do as much," Thomas said. "With Maryland, I used to bring the ball up. But now I stay on the wing."
Thomas shares the scoring responsibilities with her teammates, namely forward and fellow rookie Chiney Ogwumike, the No. 1 pick in this year's draft. Ogwumike leads the team in scoring and rebounding, and the former Stanford star has become the team's top offensive option.
With her size and quickness, Thomas often creates mismatches for opponents. On the Sun, coach Anne Donovan said Tuesday, Thomas doesn't have to lead the offense, and she can focus on exploiting those mismatches.
"She's adjusted very well," Donovan said. "She's able now to specialize and really capitalize on her strengths, rather than having to spread herself too thin."
In past games this season, Thomas has demonstrated the well-rounded skill set that made her a star at Maryland. She had 23 points and 12 rebounds against the Chicago Sky on June 25, and she got 24 points and four steals against the Tulsa Shock on July 3.
In most games, though, Thomas has shown that form in spurts. With 14.9 seconds remaining before halftime Wednesday, Thomas intercepted a pass from Mystics guard Ivory Latta before sprinting past a defender and finishing with a layup to tie the game at 38. On the next possession, she swatted guard Bria Hartley's jumper into the crowd as the halftime buzzer sounded.
The two plays were a sample of what Thomas used to do throughout her college career at College Park. But moments like those are only a small part of the bigger picture, as she continues grow accustomed to life as a professional.
"We would be on the road for eight days and then come back, pack a new bag and be on the road again," Thomas said. "It's definitely a lot of traveling, but it's the life of a professional."