BRIDGEWATER — Ronnie Thomas has basketball figured out. An aspiring Division I women’s basketball coach, the 19-year-old Bridgewater College point guard is analytical, observant and driven. He watches film obsessively and even carries DVDs of game film around in his jacket.
“Out of the players I’ve coached,” said BC coach Don Burgess, a former D-I assistant, “The amount of time Ronnie spends watching film is second to none.”
He can tell you something about the Eagles’ opponents — this team doesn’t want to play defense; this team doesn’t box out — and he can tell you the tendencies of each of his teammates, as well their jobs on each play.
But there is one thing Thomas, a super-slight, 6-foot-4, 158-pound sophomore with dreadlocks and a narrow, grinning face, doesn’t know about basketball: How to guard himself.
“If I was watching tape on me, I don’t really know how to guard this guy because, in my mind, I really don’t know what I want to do,” Thomas said Monday. “If you’re going to leave me open, I am going to shoot. If you’re going to get all in me, I’m going to go by, and first, I’m going to look dish and then I’m going to look to score.”
Well, if that’s the one basketball thing Thomas hasn’t figured out, it’s OK. The rest of the D-III Old Dominion Athletic Conference hasn’t figured it out, either.
In addition to being Burgess’ coach on the floor, Thomas is the Eagles’ Mr. Everything.
He can score (10.2 points per game and a 40.5 shooting percentage). He can rebound (5.7 per game), and he can pass (4.7 assists per game). He also leads BC in steals with 20 (1.5 a game).
In a 92-78 loss to Lynchburg on Jan. 4, the Roanoke native had 17 points, 22 rebounds and 10 assists to go with two steals and a 50 percent shooting percentage (5-for-10). Thomas, who starred at Group AAA Patrick Henry in Roanoke and helped the Patriots to a state tournament run his senior year, said it was the first triple-double of his life.
“I’ve always had that all-around game and always paid attention to defense first,” said Thomas, who upped his squat from 185 pounds to 245, and as a result, dunked for the first time ever this fall. “This year’s been a big change. I’ve sort of relied on the offensive end, which hasn’t been the case. … Having to score is something new for me.”
The Eagles (4-9 overall, 1-3 in the ODAC) need Thomas to score because their leading scorer, Cody Griffith, has played in just eight games due to an ankle injury. The 5-foot-11 senior guard is averaging 13.1 points per game.
Of course, Thomas figured it out.
“Ronnie, he’s like the quarterback on the court,” Burgess said. “He’s one of the leaders. He’s like, ‘Coach, I see we ran this play and you added this wrinkle to such-and-such play,’ and it’s not just, ‘OK, this is what we did; we’ll run it.’ It’s, ‘Hey coach, why do we run it?’ He’s inquisitive in regards to he wants to see the A and B option off the play.”
Burgess said that also is one of Thomas’ curses.
The fourth-year coach said Thomas — a self-described “big kid,” who, despite eating four meals a day, battles to add weight to his scarecrow frame — can be too parsing, which can hurt his game. (Thomas used the example of when he goes to rim, he’s never sure if he’s going to score or dish until the last minute. Then, sometimes, it’s too late.)
“He’s such a smart and unselfish player, and sometimes, he overanalyzes it,” Burgess said. “He says, ‘OK, well, I did this and this and this, then this should happen.’”
But, in the future, Thomas’ penchant for analysis (and over-analysis) should serve him well.
He said he’s always wanted to be coach and developed an interest in the women’s game from working with girls at BC’s basketball camps and from being around the Eagles’ women’s team.
Thomas said he also enjoyed the level of “detail” required by the women’s game, which, he said, relies more on fundamentals than athleticism. And if Thomas knows anything, it’s details.
He’s even started to figure out a few about himself.
“Yeah, I might not be the fastest or the quickest point guard,” Thomas said. “But when it comes to [Virginia] Wesleyan, EMU, Randolph — they have these 5-10 little guards, but I know the game so well and I know how to manipulate my moves and use every space on the floor.”
He just doesn’t know how to guard himself, and, apparently, neither does anyone else.