COLLEGE PARK — It was early in a Maryland-Wake Forest game last season and Devin Thomas and Alex Len seemed to be testing each other.
Len, then Maryland's sophomore center, bumped with the Wake Forest power forward as the two looked to establish position. Thomas, then a freshman, raised a forearm that grazed Len's torso.
It could have been an awkward situation for the Thomas family, watching from its Comcast Center seats. Bob Thomas and his wife, Tina Klotzbeecher-Thomas, are not only Devin's parents but also the parents of Alyssa Thomas, Maryland's women's basketball star. Any potential skirmish would pit their childrens' schools against each other.
In fact, the parents felt no unease. In the Thomas family, nothing is rewarded so much as raw aggression. Devin, who returns to College Park Tuesday night when the Demon Deacons (14-11, 4-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) visit the Terps (14-12, 6-7), was simply asserting himself a little earlier in his career than most freshmen.
"Here is how we've taught our kids — when you step on the court, no one is your friend," Klotzbeecher-Thomas said. "You've got to play to win. If that means you have to do the little sneaky stuff, then you have to do the little sneaky stuff. Devin was going to let them know: 'I may be a freshman and I may be Alyssa's brother, but I'm not going to take any crap from anyone.' That's Devin and that's how we raised him."
Said Devin Thomas, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound rugged rebounder who was ejected from a game against Kansas earlier this season after being assessed two technical fouls: "You're not supposed to back down from anybody.
Alyssa Thomas, a senior and one if the best players in school history, was also at Comcast Center to support her brother last season. She plans to attend Tuesday's game as well, but says it wouldn't be tactful to be as vocal as her mother.
"You cannot NOT hear my mom. She's that loud," Alyssa said. "I'll be there supporting him. I can't cheer too loud, because I'll be sitting with Maryland fans and my teammates. But blood is thicker than water. I always want to see him do well."
Devin Thomas —who once shattered a backboard on an alley-oop dunk while playing for Central Dauphin (Pa.) High School — averages 11.0 points per game. His 7.8 rebounds per game is fourth in the ACC.
"He's fast, he can get to the rim [and] get fouled," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. "Great offensive rebounder and a great defensive rebounder and a great finisher. He gives them a presence. You need to have a guy like that on your team."
There are few brother-sister combinations who have played at the level of Alyssa and Devin.
"I can only think of Reggie and Cheryl [Miller]," Alyssa said, referring to the former Indiana Pacers standout and his sister, who starred and coached at Southern California.
Devin Thomas said Monday that he had been interested in coming to Maryland while in high school. He was recruited by former coach Gary Williams and assistant Rob Ehsan. But Williams retired in May 2011, Ehsan was not retained and Thomas ended up at Wake Forest.
"Devin is in many ways the heart and soul of our basketball team," Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "He plays with great passion, great energy."
Tuesday's game comes with the Demon Deacons — and Thomas in particular — in their most trying stretch of the season. Wake Forest has lost its past five games. The Terps are trying to rebound after Saturday's excruciating 69-67 loss at Duke.
Devin Thomas is often his own worst critic. The pressure comes partly from having parents who both played competitively — for Division II Millersville — and coached their kids in the Amateur Athletic Union.
"We used to play one-on-one," Alyssa said. "[Devin] would get frustrated because I was so much quicker than him. I would drive to the hoop and he would get mad and tackle me."
Alyssa and Devin have a younger sister, Alexia, 12, who also plays.
Alexia "wants to be the shooter," the mother said. "Devin is more of a banger. Alyssa is more the finesse player."
Devin scored just two points with three rebounds in Wake Forest's most recent game, a 67-60 loss to Florida State.
"Right now, my rebounding is horrific. I'm not doing what my coach and teammates expect me to do," he said. "I hate to say this, but [I need to] probably play a little harder. I should never, ever have to say that. But we're in a slump."
After being named to the ACC all-freshman team last season, Thomas doesn't surprise teams anymore with his ability to bang inside.
"He needs to expand his game a little more in terms of being able — when teams take away one thing — to counter it with another move," Bzdelik said. "He's been a little inconsistent, but so has our basketball team as well over the last couple weeks. He's a terrific young man who works extremely hard, and I think we've come to expect so much out of him that when he falls short, we're like 'Wow.'"
NOTE: Turgeon said Monday that the ACC apologized for a mixup regarding the possession arrow during Saturday's loss at Duke. Instead of it being Maryland ball after a tie-up with 6:39 to go, Duke inbounded under its own basket and center Amile Jefferson scored to tie the game at 56. "It's basketball, it happens, we've moved on," Turgeon said Monday. "What are you going to do? We've got to move on and get ready for Wake."
Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus contributed to this article.