NORMAN — TaShawn Thomas didn’t know what to think when the phone rang and Oklahoma assistant Lew Hill was on the other end.
Thomas’ head was still spinning after deciding to leave Houston after three productive seasons following the departure of James Dickey as the Cougars’ coach.
The native of Killeen, Texas, didn’t think he’d play for any college other than Houston and never thought he’d wind up a Sooner.
“Growing up in Texas, you’re always a Longhorns fan,” Thomas said. “So when OU called, I thought that’d be weird if I actually went there.”
But as the process of selecting another school went on, it became clear for Thomas that OU made the most sense.
Thomas wanted to go to a good team and Oklahoma certainly is that, having been to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments and with most of its rotation returning next season.
He wanted to go to somewhere where he was needed and with Cam Clark’s departure, the Sooners could certainly use a forward with some flexibility in his game like the 6-foot-8 Thomas.
And nowhere else he visited made Thomas feel more at home than Norman.
“He’s a great kid and a good basketball talent,” Sooners caoch Lon Kruger said. “He’s mature. Everyone we’ve talked to from his high school days to the University of Houston were very, very impressed with him as a person and as a player.”
Thomas is appealing to the NCAA for immediate eligibility this season. The NCAA has recently granted waivers with regularity for players whose coaches were fired or otherwise left the programs.
An upcoming rule change will make the waivers extremely rare, though Thomas will still be considered under the present rules.
“We have that window and we’ll find out,” Kruger said. “Obviously we hope it works to where Tay can play right away and yet if it doesn’t, from our perspective, it’s still going to be good.”
If Thomas is able to play this season, it would be a big boost for a team looking to break through and take the next step by winning games in the NCAA Tournament.
He’s the leader to step into the starting lineup to replace the only subtraction from last year’s starters, Clark. Clark averaged 15.6 points and 5.5 rebounds last season.
Thomas isn’t near the outside threat that Clark was, having hit just three 3-pointers in three seasons as a starter with the Cougars compared to Clark’s 37 last season alone.
But Thomas feels like he can still create plenty of matchup problems after averaging 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds as a junior. Thomas has started every one of his 96 collegiate games.
“I don’t feel like a lot of people my size can guard me,” Thomas said.
Thomas already has settled into his new relationship with Texas.
He says Oklahoma first when mentioning the rivalry, talks about the respect between the programs and doesn’t downplay the significance of playing the Longhorns as a Sooner.
“We played UT my sophomore year of college at Houston and we beat them,” Thomas said. “I’m looking forward to doing that again.
“I’m not a Longhorns fan anymore. I’m ready to play them and beat them.”