THE RAMS TAKE ON BROWN WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 22ND AT 7PM ON YURVIEW, COX CHANNEL 4 IN RI
An anticipated redshirt in summer of 2021, watching freshman point guard Sebastian Thomas on the floor for Rhode Island in these non-conference games offers a telling and resounding statement.
The 6-1, 180-pound, Rhode Island native and former Bishop Hendricken star committed to the Rams this past June. Six months later he’s a stable rotation player for David Cox and staff as they approach Atlantic 10 play. Thomas blends pace, vision, and defensive tenacity with self-awareness. He knows there’s much learning and improvement ahead and welcomes the opportunity to chase it.
I caught up with the thoughtful and personable freshman for this conversation.
Chris DiSano: When you committed, you talked about how it was a dream to play for URI. As this year has progressed, how has your appreciation of this opportunity grown?
Sebastian Thomas: It means a lot to me, being someone from Rhode Island to play at a university that’s close to home. Not many guys have done it in recent times besides David Duke and Ricky Ledo (PC). Having a chance to play for my home state school is amazing so far. On the court it’s going to be a learning process, obviously, but it’s a blessing to be able to show younger kids around the state that it’s possible. Hopefully they look up to me and use me as an example.
“Ever since I was at Hendricken it was a dream of mine to play at URI .. I’m proud to be a Ram.”https://t.co/LEZojvvCRy
— Morey Hershgordon (@MHershgordon) June 16, 2021
CD: You were going to redshirt. You played your way into the equation by showing the coaching staff you were ready through hard work and performance in practice leading up to the season. Can you walk us through the decision and, now, how you feel being a contributor?
ST: Well, let’s just start by saying this all happened so fast. First, committing to URI a month or two before school started. I wasn’t planning on playing this year, just getting stronger, getting my body right for the college level and learning from this year’s team. I didn’t plan on playing because I knew there were many guards ahead of me, including veterans Jeremy Sheppard and Ishmael El-Amin. But in preseason practice, for about a month straight, I felt I was doing a good job of being a point guard and showing my abilities. For the next couple of weeks, the coaches brought me up into the office and we talked about the impact I could make on this year’s team even with the other guards we have, and how we had a special group and the talent to compete in the A-10. So, I said let’s do it. Now, in season and the way I’m contributing, I feel the coaches made the right decision by presenting me with that opportunity.
CD: Being a Rhode Island kid, how did it feel stepping on the floor at the Dunkin Donuts Center in the rivalry game against PC? The team result wasn’t what you wanted, but you played well in meaningful minutes.
ST: The night before we had shootaround at the Dunkin Donuts Center and it was a crazy feeling. Growing up I’d go to Providence games because they were close to home. It started hitting me that “Tomorrow, I’m going to be playing on this floor. It’s crazy.” The next day came, and I didn’t think as much about it on the day itself, but it means a lot to me having the opportunity to play on that floor in front of Rhode Island basketball fans and many people in there who were supporting me.
— Bassy (@bassyyyyy4) June 16, 2021
CD: You touched upon this year being a year of learning. What has been the most significant adjustment to the college game for you and, conversely, what has been an area that’s been less challenging to adjust to than you may have anticipated?
ST: The biggest adjustment has been learning small details, like when to come off a screen so a big man doesn’t get whistled for a moving screen; little things. The pace of the game is very fast. Playing high school basketball, I felt like I was controlling the game. Now, getting into college people are so much bigger and faster and the game is played at an up and down pace. You need to understand when to slow things down and when to push. I feel like I push the ball at a great pace but sometimes I can regret it; that’s part of the learning process for me.
For a positive, my ability to read the game and the way my basketball IQ has played up at this level has helped me. My assist-to-turnover ratio is good (nearly 2-to-1), making the right passes and keeping the game simple. There are many freshmen who come into college basketball and make a lot of mistakes turning the ball over. That’s been a nice surprise.
— Adam Finkelstein (@AdamFinkelstein) May 31, 2021
CD: Where does your confidence and fearlessness with which you play come from?
ST: My confidence comes from within, believing in myself. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will? Also, not being heavily recruited out of high school and hearing people saying I’m too small to play at this level. Before I got my first offer, I lost some hope at the time because I thought I should’ve had an offer, but I didn’t. Throughout the journey it was hard. All my life, I’ve been an ‘underdog’ and I felt like I didn’t get as much recognition as I deserved, but in the end, it worked out because I am here at URI. I like the fact that some people still doubt me because it gives me extra motivation to be great. I’m going to continue to put the work in, beat the odds, and eventually show the world who I am.
CD: You talked about having veterans in Ishmael El-Amin and Jeremy Sheppard. What have you picked up from those guys?
ST: From Ish El-Amin, I’m trying to learn how to be vocal. Both on the court and in practice, he has a voice in that locker room and everyone respects him. It’s his fifth year, and I try to learn as much as I can from him. From Shep, he’s a great talent and I’m trying to learn the little things that make him successful. They both do a good job of teaching me in timeouts, huddles, practice. I’m learning as much as I can so next year, I’m ready.
CD: Is there one specific area of learning you’re focusing on?
ST: I’d say communication. Me, being a point guard… when I first came all the coaches challenged me just to talk. A few weeks into practice we were starting to do live segments, 5 on 5, and they would split my team and Shep’s team up. That helped me a lot because I was the point guard of my team, so I had to control things and talk to my team. I feel like I’m coming along.
CD: Let’s expand for a moment to the team. You all are sitting at 8-3… what is your assessment of the team as we head toward the holidays?
ST: So far, we’ve had an okay season – there are a lot of things we need to work on, small things. I feel like our culture has been coming along in terms of who we want to be as a team, but I do feel like a couple of the losses we’ve had are games we should’ve or could’ve won to help our record out. I feel good about our team going into the holidays and conference season. I feel like if we stay together, we’ll get better every day and get where we want. We’ve all bought into being a defensive team this year. Offensively, I feel like we’re talented to get the shots we want. Defensively, I feel like we came out at the start of this season very strong. We are all locked into that side of the ball and how important that is for us to win games.
CD: Your minutes have been rising. You average about 13 per night, but you’re pushing up near 18 minutes a game over the last five games. What are the coaches relaying to you about your play? How do you feel about your progress?
ST: The coaches have been saying to me that I’ve been playing well. Being someone who comes off the bench, I need to provide energy. They liked the way I’ve been pushing the ball, controlling the offense, and playing defense.
Right now, I feel like I’m doing a good job. I’m a freshman and there are many things I need to learn. I’m not shooting the ball as well as I’d like, but that will come. I’m not worried about scoring because I know I can score it and I’ve shown that in practice. My other contributions like bringing energy, playmaking for teammates and creating shots, and digging in on defense – I feel like I’ve been doing a good job of that.
Chris DiSano, is an Atlantic 10 analyst and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano, who was named an NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44