Alyssa Thomas fits in just fine in our corner of the world
Mohegan – The narrative, loosely translated, goes like this: Connecticut, in spite of its bustling fan base, isn’t necessarily the garden spot for WNBA players, based on its dearth of night life for twentysomething young athletes, particularly in comparison to big cities.
All of which makes Alyssa Thomas the perfect fit for our corner of the world. She is our geographic personification: no glamour, no clamor. Just loyal and earnest, interested more in the game than the acclaim, somehow finding a way to git ’er done in spite of what others may perceive as adverse circumstances.
Our region’s “adverse” circumstances: we’re boring.
Thomas’ “adverse” circumstances: a game is framed by can’ts, not cans. Like: can’t shoot. Unorthodox shot.
Funny how none of it matters. The Sun have become a contender again, despite the sleepy confines of Connecticut, led by a young woman whose chronic shoulder issues have turned her shot into something from Mr. Magoo: It works, just nobody knows how.
Thomas — “A.T” as her buds call her — is one of the longest-tenured Sun players. She was magnificent in Saturday’s win over Washington and will lead the Sun on her estimable shoulders Tuesday night at Mohegan Sun Arena against Indiana.
“Like every other team who walks out of here when they lose, you’ve got to do a better job of figuring out how to guard Alyssa Thomas,” Washington coach (and former Sun coach) Mike Thibault said. “She set a tone for them early about how they’re going to play. She does that most nights. That’s why she’s as good as she is.”
Thibault called Thomas a “point power forward,” meaning that she’s among the best passers in the league, especially for a post player. She doesn’t need the jump shot she’s often reminded she doesn’t possess. Thomas has honed a game and a position that works. Few, if any, other players at her position get to the basket with more verve.
“For most post players, someone coming at you like that downhill is unstoppable,” teammate Jonquel Jones said. “The spin move. Try to body her, then she’s strong and can finish with both hands. A freight train running at you full speed, you don’t know what to do.”
Rachel Banham, overhearing the conversation, said, “Are you guys talking about A.T.? Oh, my God. Impossible.”
Thomas said shoulder issues prevent her from practicing a more conventional shooting stroke. They don’t swish very much when they leave either hand. They dance on the rim a lot. But it’s as if the old leprechaun from Boston Garden waits attentively on the rim to help.
“She’s got a soft touch. I don’t know how some of them go in. She literally chucks them up there with either hand. She’s really good at it,” Thibault said. “She knows when to shoot that shot and when to pass. She had a couple of passes (Saturday) and the ball barely touched her fingertips — a touch pass to somebody for an easy shot. They figured out two years ago what her position is and she’s really good at it.”
Thibault, a basketball historian who has coached Magic and Michael, had to dig deep into the old knapsack to find another player reminding him of Thomas.
“Anthony Mason,” he said. “He did that for years in the NBA. Draymond Green does it now, but he has three-point shot. If he didn’t have a three-point shot, that’s still what he is. He facilitates, like she does. Probably the best passer, big enough to see over smaller people and pushes the ball in transition like she does. She has that innate sense. I think she likes the role of being the facilitator.”
Thomas, despite her trips to all-star games and respect among her peers, isn’t necessarily perceived as a star. That’s because she speaks softly. Seems a better route to stardom in the roaring 2000s is self-promotion. Not happening here.
“I’m just playing,” she said, summarizing Saturday night.
Thomas’ antennae did invigorate a bit when Chiney Ogwumike’s name was mentioned after the game. The question: Has the floor opened any without her, perhaps giving Jones and Thomas more room to roam?
“This is the last time we’re going to talk about her,” Thomas said. “It’s in the past. She’s on a new team. We’re still doing our thing, regardless if she’s here.”
Oooh. Love that. Fire from A.T. And the perfect fit for our “boring” corner of the world.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro