TaShawn Thomas is just like millions of basketball fans across the country during March.
He watched the coverage of the 2013 NCAA Tournament on television.
But while most hoops aficionados love the wall-to-wall coverage and instant stats, Thomas knew it wasn’t enough.
Thomas knew it was time to get to work for next year and make sure that people were watching him and the rest of the University of Houston Cougars in the Big Dance in 2014.
“I wasn’t trying to sit around watching them while I felt I could be there playing,” Thomas said.
Houston’s (11-7, 3-2 American Athletic Conference) march to the tournament continues tonight when they visit No. 23 Memphis (13-4, 3-2) at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN News.
The Cougars and Tigers are currently tied for fourth place in the AAC.
Thomas is the team’s leader with 16.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game to go along with 3.3 blocks.
Thomas has been a starter ever since getting to campus in 2011 and quickly started piling up individual honors.
He earned a Conference-USA First Team spot last season, was on the C-USA All-Conference Defensive Team, was on the C-USA All-Freshmen team and made the C-USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll as a freshman.
But for Thomas, the most important thing is team success and getting Houston to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010. The Cougars haven’t won a tournament game since 1984.
“I kept on telling myself ‘Man, we can get there, I want to get there,’” Thomas said. “I’m doing anything I can to try and get to the tournament.”
Thomas has never had trouble starting an inferno of hard work after a small spark gets him going.
He first got to the varsity level as a Killeen Kangaroo as a sophomore then moved back down for a stint on the junior varsity and kept the motivation going without current Baylor star Cory Jefferson.
“People were saying that Cory Jefferson was leaving and who was going to step up?” Thomas said. “Nobody really knew who I was and that junior year was my breakout year. My senior year, we just had fun.”
Thomas helped Killeen win a district title for the second straight season that year after averaging 21 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks per game. He garnered both all-area and District 8-4A MVP honors.
“TaShawn stepped right in and we didn’t really miss a beat,” former Killeen and current Flower Mound basketball coach Jason Fossett said. “He was beyond good and he made a name for himself.”
The recruiting site Rivals.com graded Thomas as a 3-Star recruit and ranked him as the 22nd best prospect in the state.
Despite garnering interest from Alabama, Memphis, California, Colorado, Colorado State and Temple, Thomas knew that Houston was the place for him after meshing well with coach James Dickey and his staff as well as the players that showed him around the campus.
“I felt like he cared about me more than just as a basketball player,” Thomas said.
Thomas had one big performance on a big level that should help him prepare for the tournament when Houston upset then No. 17 Connecticut 75-71 on Dec. 31.
The former Roo scored 23 points, including hitting a pair of free throws with nine seconds left and blocked a late layup attempt to help the Cougars open conference play with an upset in front of 4,035 fans at Hofheinz Pavillion.
“I feel like that was the biggest win,” Thomas said.