By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Fred Thomas has quickly learned that college basketball isn’t just a game. It’s his job.
That’s why the Mississippi State freshman sometimes finds himself at Mize Pavilion at 1 or 2 a.m., putting up shots. Thomas said he gets in about 200 extra shots per week.
“In high school we practiced, but not as much or like this,” he said. “I treat it like a job.”
All the extra work is starting to pay off for the 6-foot-5 Thomas, who led Jackson’s Jim Hill High School to the Class 6A state title last year. He’s had trouble finding his stroke, but in the last two games Thomas has made 8 of 17 shots, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range.
“I tell our guys it’s not hard to figure out. When you come in and get some shots up on your own with a manager or a coach, you are going to shoot the ball better,” coach Rick Ray said. “When you don’t do that, when you take time off and not find the time to come in and shoot, you don’t shoot as well.
“It’s a direct correlation.”
Thomas said he’ll drag a couple of teammates along with him for those late-night shooting sessions. He said he’s started taking more seriously the need to work on his stroke, and not just from behind the 3-point line.
“I’m not really working on my threes. I’m really working on my midrange, trying to get it right,” Thomas said.
For the season, Thomas is shooting 33.3 percent overall and 26.3 percent from beyond the arc. Making shots has been a collective struggle for the Bulldogs, who rank 13th in the SEC in field goal percentage (40.8) and last in 3-point shooting (27.7).
Thomas is the kind of player who could spark a young, struggling team like MSU. Ray sees the potential and is making sure Thomas knows what his strengths are.
“His pull-up is so good,” Ray said. “That’s the thing you show him. He shot-fakes and takes two dribbles, and he’s so long, and he rises up over people, and he still takes a good shot. But he just gets to playing basketball sometimes, and he needs to shot-fake and drive by people and pull up.”
Like Thomas, junior college transfer Colin Borchert came to MSU this season with a reputation for hitting outside shots. The 6-8 forward has made only 17.2 percent from 3-point range.
Following an 0 for 7 shooting performance in Saturday’s loss to Tennessee, Borchert expressed confidence that he’ll find his shot. Ray would like to see him make more threes, but he also values the other things Borchert can do.
“A skilled forward is not just all because a guy can shoot,” Ray said. “It’s because he can dribble, he can pass, he can score from in the post, he can score from outside the post. He can do a lot of different things in your motion offense.”
Borchert can also block shots; he has a team-high 23 in 13 games.
Thomas has other skills, too, like passing the ball. Ray wants to see those skills develop as much as the shooting aspect.
“Fred is another guy, like Colin, who has a natural feel for basketball. He just needs to use it more.”