WSU’s Thomasson feeling right at home

Life does imitate art — at least when it comes to Joe Thomasson.

A little over a year ago he went into a Sedalia, Mo., tattoo parlor and had “DAYTON” inked horizontally around the front of his right arm. Beneath it, in even bigger script, he had “OHIO” done vertically.

“All my tattoos have real meaning in my life,” the new Wright State guard said. “And this one? Well, some people leave Dayton and they don’t want to look back. But Dayton, Ohio is in my heart forever. It’s where I come from. It made me who I am.

“It’s what I love.”

Yet that’s not saying it’s been the smoothest of romances.

Thomasson was one of the stars of the Thurgood Marshall team that made it to the Division II state championship game in 2011. In fact, he was the guy who hit the winning bucket in the final seconds to lift the Cougars over Toledo Rogers in the state semifinal.

He was just a junior then and that summer he upped his profile even more with a standout AAU season with the Ohio Hoopsters. Colleges nationwide took interest, but when they found out his academics didn’t quite meet NCAA requirements, many “backed off,” he said

Wright State didn’t. The coaches hoped he could enter WSU without a scholarship and work on his grades for a year without playing basketball.

Thomasson committed to WSU in November of his senior year, but several months later — when he had been unable to fully bridge the academic deficit — the school would not accept his admission.

“Coach Moore (assistant coach Chris Moore) and I sat down for a day and figured out what was best for me now,” Thomasson said.

He ended up at State Fair Community College in Sedalia, won all-league honors his first season, got himself back on track academically and then shined in a showcase of the top 100 junior college players in the nation that summer.

Instantly, the bandwagon filled up again. Oklahoma State made an offer and, in August 2013, Thomasson committed to the Cowboys. But after a while, especially when OSU signed some more guards, he surprised everyone and changed his mind.

“A day or so after I de-committed, Coach Ford (OSU coach Travis Ford) was in our gym, face to face with me,” Thomasson admitted. “But it just didn’t feel right to me. I felt I was leaving something behind.”

Wright State got word Thomasson was interested — again.

“I was honest with him,” head coach Billy Donlon said. “I said, ‘We really recruited you hard a couple of years ago and now if you don’t want to do it early, we’re not going to add you late.’ This had been going on four years and I thought it was enough to prove our loyalty.”

Thomasson committed to the Raiders last November, went on to have a superb second season at State Fair — averaging nearly 18 points and 6 assists and earning All-American honors — and also got his associates degree.

Now back home, the Raiders junior guard shared one of his dreams Thursday.

“To be honest, I can’t wait to hear my name out there,” he said with a nod toward the Nutter Center court. “I can’t wait to hear, ‘And now, a 6-foot-5 guard from Dayton, Ohio — Joe Thomasson!’ And then hearing the crowd go crazy.

“That would be a dream come true. I’d almost feel like LeBron going back to Cleveland.”

Son changes attitude

Thomasson’s return is about more than just hoops.

He has a 3-year old son, Joseph III, who lives here with his girlfriend, Ladresha Player. During his two years at State Fair, Thomasson said Ladresha, their son and his mom, Autumn Bryant, made the trip to Sedalia as often as they could.

Family life, books and a hoops career can be a triple team that sometimes overwhelms college players, once in a while in the worst of ways.

Former Raider Tavares Sledge is a case in point. After a squabble with his girlfriend and the mother of their little boy last year, he was suspended from the team and then jailed 19 days. This preseason another unfortunate incident got him permanently dismissed from the team, though he’s still in school.

At the University of Dayton, big man Devon Scott was suspended over the spring and summer for an argument that got out of hand with his girlfriend and the mother of his son.

“Those two dudes are both my close friends,” Thomasson said. “Devon Scott was my AAU teammate and Tavares is my brother. Actually they’re great fathers. But we’re not all the same. We each have different situations. And I can’t speak for them.

“I can tell you my son changed me. He was brought into the world — he doesn’t know nothing about getting food or clothes or anything. He just knows he has a mom and dad. He looks up to us.

“That’s what changed me at State Fair. I grew up out there. I realized I have to make the most of my basketball — and my time in school — so I can provide for him.”

Donlon hopes that is the case:

“When you recruit somebody there are no guarantees. You don’t know how it’s going to turn out. You have faith they will be a good basketball player, a good person and get their degree. And you also have faith that we will do our job to help them.”

Adjusting to Division I

Thomasson said his lessons at State Fair came on the court, as well.

“When I first got there, I knew nothing about junior college basketball,” he said. “All I’d thought about was Division I and I thought I was better than everybody. At first, nobody could tell me anything. My attitude was bad.”

Then he got to know the Roadrunners point guard, Kenny Cherry, who has since graduated and gone on to All-Big 12 Conference honors at Baylor.

“He was the most humble, all-around good person I ever met,” Thomasson said. “He was close to flawless. Everything I wanted as a player, he had. His sophomore year, almost every school in the nation was in our gym to see him. And through it all, he was nothing but class.”

Since coming to WSU, Thomasson is trying to remember those lessons.

“He’s going to have an adjustment period,” Donlon said. “There’s been times in practice he’s been humbled. When you grow up a basketball player, you think of playing at Duke, Carolina, Kansas. That’s not to knock Wright State or anybody that is not Duke or Kansas, but sometimes you don’t realize how good everybody else may be.

“Joe is learning just how hard you have to play at Division I compared to junior college or high school. In practice he’s had some times when it was hard going against Kendall Griffin, but he’s got to remember Kendall has guarded guys in the NBA now and he shut them down.

“Joe will be fine though. He can play three positions for us, he’s a great passer and when the ball goes up, he’s a real competitor. He wants to win so badly.”

And Thomasson thinks that will happen this year:

“Some people don’t realize how good our program is. Since we’re not playing on ESPN all the time, they might think we’re a mediocre school. But I know different from playing with everybody here. And I think as the year goes on, we’re going to show everybody just how good we are.”

So does that mean he may soon be adding a Wright State tattoo?

“Naaah,” he said. “Like I said, every tattoo really has to mean something in my life. For me to add Wright State to my body, we’d have to win a couple of championships here.”

And that would be fine with Donlon.

The coach would like to see art imitate life.

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