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Growing Pains: Thomas seeks to fulfill potential

Stephon Thomas has infinite potential.

The 6-foot-5 Merced College sophomore can leap with any junior college player in the state.

He's versatile enough to effectively play four positions on offense and defensively sound enough to guard any member of the opposing team.

According to Blue Devils coach Bill Russell, the only thing limiting Thomas from living up to that potential is, well...

Thomas.

"Stephon needs to understand the opportunities that will present themselves if he follows through with his focus both on the court and in the classroom," Russell said. "That's just part of growing up and I think he's definitely made some strides there."

As tends to be the case with maturing, Thomas has done the bulk of his while facing adversity.

The small forward lost his starting position about halfway through the season and has struggled to keep quiet as MC stumbled to a 5-15 record.

"I'm kind of a goofball during practice,"Thomas acknowledged. "It's something I've been trying to work on.

"My mouth has also gotten me into trouble.

"I tend to say what's on my mind and I've gotten better at keeping my frustrations to myself."

They're baby steps for Thomas, but on a team that's struggled all season to find on-court chemistry, those steps could have a huge impact.

Thomas is already leaving his mark, coming off the bench in a sixth-man role.

"He has the ability to change the game," sophomore guard Adam Grubb said. "His athleticism and versatility can cause a lot of mismatches for other teams, and his energy gives us a spark."

Thomas said his relegation to the bench has proved a blessing in disguise.

"I don't know that it makes sense, but it helps me," Thomas said. "I get a chance to see what everybody on the other team can do and it pumps me up for when I get in."

It certainly seems to be having an impact on his offensive output.

Thomas' main role for MC is rebounding and defense. He's excelled at both at times, leading the Blue Devils with 6.9 rebounds per game.

But recently Thomas (7.7 points per game) has provided MC a much needed source of bench scoring.

Thomas has always gotten his share of awe-inspiring dunks and easy offensive putbacks. Now, he's starting to find his role in the Blue Devil offense.

Thomas has been particularly potent from behind the arc.

After starting the season just 5 for 21 from 3-point land, Thomas has opened Central Valley Conference play an efficient 5 of 7.

Russell said it's all part of the maturation process.

"He's been successful because he's worked within our offense," Russell said. "Stephon's found that when he does his job, you don't have to force shots up and you get better looks."

Thomas will try to maintain his hot hand tonight when the Blue Devils travel to Visalia to take on College of the Sequoias.

MC will need all the contributions it can get as it attempts to win consecutive games for just the second time this season.

"COS prides themselves on playing solid defense and on a structured offense," Russell said. "They work real hard at not beating themselves.

"What that means is we have to come out and play to the best of our ability from the beginning."

Merced College

At Sequoias

TIPOFF: 7 p.m.

RECORDS: MC 1-3 CVC, 5-15; COS 2-2 CVC, 11-11.

LEADERS: MC: Lavell Shipman 14.5 points, Stephon Thomas 6.9 rebounds, John Lowe 2.3 assists; COS: Rocky DiAntonio 11.2 points, Cliff Ederaine 7.4, Jordan Reyes 2.8 assists.

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