Charles Thomas Staying Ready For Wisconsin

Charles Thomas Staying Ready For Wisconsin

Basketball

Charles Thomas Staying Ready For Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. – Watching teammates and classmates Alex Illikainen and Andy Van Vliet depart the program over the offseason, Charles Thomas had the same opportunity. A forward getting little playing time heading into the late stages of his career, Thomas could have transferred from Wisconsin and moved to a smaller program where he could play out the final year of his eligibility in a larger role.

There was just one problem, Thomas had no interest in leaving. Why?

“Because I want to help my team get to another championship,” he said. “Nothing else.”

But in order to do that, Thomas had to champion his role as a reserve for the Badgers, a thankless job that comes with no guarantees.

Take last week for example. Thomas was a key component in Wisconsin’s 71-52 win at Penn State, scoring seven points in 10 minutes and chipping in with rebounds, assists and 3-pointers. In Friday’s overtime loss to Purdue, Thomas never left the bench.

His role tonight at No.19 Maryland, playing at a campus he grew up 17 miles from, will depend on the game’s flow and matchups. Thomas has never started a game in four seasons, but he prepares like he hasn’t missed a minute.

“I just come to work every day,” he said. “It’s nothing different. Nothing changes. You just got to keep the mindset that you need to come in and produce. I’m just playing my game, just being me. It’s nothing new.”

Thomas’ approach is invaluable for a Wisconsin coaching staff trying to get more from their reserves. Since the season-ending injury to guard Trevor Anderson, the Badgers have typically gone three deep on the bench with guards Brevin Pritzl, Kobe King and Aleem Ford, with Thomas the first ‘big’ being used. The bench has averaged 10 points over the last four games, although 19 came in the win at Penn State. Against Purdue, Pritzl, King and Ford combined for seven points on 2-for-6 shooting and each committed a turnover.

Thomas had appeared in 94 games through his career, registering 195 points and 160 rebounds, more than the rest of the bench combined.

“You have to stay ready and mentally lock in all the time, so when Coach (Gard) called his number at Penn State, he was ready,” assistant coach Howard Moore said. “You could tell. He stepped in and did what he needed to do. If you’re not in that moment, that’s a tough deal to have to deal with. When your number is called, Coach is calling it because he feels you can help in this moment.

“When he comes in, we need him to be a good rebounder, a good defender, take care of the ball and know what we’re running … When you’re a senior, you expect a guy to have enough maturity and understanding to be able to handle those situations. We’ll never ask Chuck to do something out of his realm.”

After UW’s low-post play was a significant weakness last season outside of senior Ethan Happ because of youth or inexperience, Thomas worked on being in better shape for this season, dropping over 10 pounds from last season to be more agile and aggressive in rebounding, boxing out, delivery screens and finishing around the rim.

Seeing the Badgers finish 15-18 and miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998 was another big motivator for improvement.

“We definitely looked at what we did last year and it obviously wasn’t enough,” Thomas said. “So, we locked in this summer, all the bigs, all the guards, but especially in the low post. We had a lot of guys improve (by) just coming to work every day. We had to add on from last year. I think we did a great job of making a huge job in post improvement. Everybody just bought in.”

To this point, the results for Wisconsin are mixed. The Badgers are just one of nine teams with four Quadrant 1 wins, defined as home wins over the top 30 teams in the country, neutral site wins over the top 50 teams and road wins over the top 70 teams, in the NCAA’s new NET rankings that help seed the NCAA tournament. All of those victories came in November. However, UW has lost three of the last four, including a pair at home, because the Badgers have had lapses defensively, offensively, in late-game situations, with turnovers and from the free throw line.

Following tonight’s road game against Maryland (No.22 in the NET rankings), the Badgers host No.2 Michigan (No.3 in the NET) Saturday. That’s life in the Big Ten, two games that could keep stretching UW’s woes or boost them considerably.

“These next couple games are going to be a measuring stick for us,” Thomas said. “Every game from here on out, the Big Ten is not easy. It’s going to be a dogfight, so every game you have to bring it. It’s going to measure how much work we’ve put it.”

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