MADISON – Regardless of how many minutes he has played – usually a minimal number – Wisconsin’s Charlie Thomas has tried to approach each opportunity with the same attitude.
“You just go in with the mindset that you’ve got to bring the energy all the time,” the senior forward said after practice earlier this week. “No matter if you are coming off the bench or a starter. It doesn’t change. I like to bring it every game.”
The 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward from Highland, Maryland, has gotten limited minutes this season but is coming off arguably his most productive game of the season.
Thomas did not see action in two of UW’s first 10 games and averaged just 5.1 minutes in the eight games he played.
He got 16 minutes in UW’s rout of Savannah State, however, and contributed eight rebounds, six points, two blocks and a steal.
“I was going hard,” said Thomas, who grabbed six offensive rebounds in the victory. “I was just trying to help my team any way I could. Just be strong in the paint. Grab some rebounds and make some plays for us. I’ve just got to keep it rolling.”
UW (9-2) returns to action at 11 a.m. Saturday against visiting Grambling State (6-6), which won the SWAC regular-season title last season and is projected to repeat.
“There are certain matchups and certain times I think it will be better for him,” UW coach Greg Gard said of Thomas. “But he has stayed positive. He keeps working hard. …You never start learning until the last day you walk out of your locker room in your last game as a senior.
“We never want to stop growing and getting better.”
Thomas entered his final season at UW having played in a total of 81 games and averaging 2.0 points, 1.7 rebounds and 7.3 minutes per game.
His numbers so far this season are modest: 6.3 minutes, 2.9 points and 2.2 rebounds per game.
“Everybody has their ups and downs,” said Thomas, who is majoring in sociology. “It is the will to go through it and just keep playing. It is part of the game.
“Anytime you get a chance to get in there and play well and get a win it is always a plus.”
Thomas likely will be needed in Big Ten play when UW faces teams that feature powerful post players. His job will be to steal a few minutes for Ethan Happ and/or Nate Reuvers, defend, rebound and take care of the ball.
“He has helped us a ton this year just in practice by pushing Ethan and pushing Nate,” UW assistant Joe Krabbenhoft said. “And his time is coming. You saw what he did against Savannah State. We’re going to need him to continue to be ready to help us. …
“The minutes don’t say that he has vast experience but he has a ton of experience. He has been in big-time games and big-time environments in the Big Ten. He has sat through more film sessions than anybody other than Ethan. He knows what we want and the way things need to be done.”
Thomas was part of a five-player class that included fellow post players Andy Van Vliet and Alex Illikainen. He is the last “big” left.
“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” Thomas asked.
Van Vliet left after last season and transferred to William & Mary. His departure was not surprising.
Illikainen left the team last month, less than a week after not playing in the opener against Coppin State, but elected to stay in school.
“We were caught off-guard,” Thomas said.
Reporters have occasionally asked Thomas whether he ever contemplated leaving in search of a new program and more playing time.
His answer never changed: He planned to finish what he started at UW.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t appreciate that,” Krabbenhoft said. “I couldn’t say enough great things about Charlie Thomas, who he is as a teammate and a person and what he means to the locker room and to the program.
“We’ve never doubted where Charlie’s heart is at. He is all about the team and he has been a great guy to coach.”