Expectations for Koby Thomas entering his sophomore year were justifiably high.
The reigning NEC Rookie of the Year struggled with his shot in the second half of the season but still averaged 12.0 points (second on the team), 6.9 boards (first on the team, nice) and was second on the team in usage. His 3-point shooting left a lot to be desired (24 percent on the season but just 16 percent in NEC play) but that’s not the end-all-be-all.
Thought of as one of the best recruits head coach Andy Toole has ever brought to RMU, Thomas had the athleticism and enough raw skill to live up to the expectations.
Things have gone very, very downhill since. The sophomore was great against USC, shooting 8 of 16 from the field while grabbing 10 boards. Thomas has only matched that 16 point output once – at Stetson – and has reached double figures in two other games. His 3-point shooting has picked up right where it left off last season, and not in a good way – Thomas is just 2-13 from 3 and shooting 43.6 percent on 2-point shots, a dip of seven percent.
Once thought of as the next big piece to continue Robert Morris’ success, Koby Thomas looked like a man with little confidence. His future with the program seems up in the air. The sophomore has not played since a Dec. 15 matchup against Rider.
RMU radio play-by-play man Chris Shovlin has reported on air that Thomas has been out recently with an illness. OK. Perhaps that is the reasoning for his most recent DNP, but that was not what was told to reporters following a Dec. 21 loss at Louisville. Here is what Toole had to say following that loss:
Koby Thomas is “ill” in the same way that I’m gaining weight because of a “thyroid” issue. It really just doesn’t add up. Thomas has not played well and lost his minutes to Chris Coalmon.
So, what does the future for Koby Thomas look like?
Let’s start with the here-and-now. When Toole says that players have to earn their minutes, he means it. We have seen this demonstrated time and time again. You cannot skate by in practice under Toole – he is relentless. That just doesn’t fly. So, if Thomas isn’t performing well in practice and/or not showing the attitude or work ethic Toole expects, his benching makes since.
All of the above is speculation. I have no inside sources telling me what’s going down, but after covering the team for several years, it would not surprise me if this is the situation. A combination of under-performance and poor habits.
Which means Thomas will certainly have a shot to return and make an impact on this year’s team.
I want to focus on that, because Thomas could be a real difference maker. If he – at the bare minimum – could replicate his offensive numbers from his freshman season, it would make a difference for a Robert Morris team that is 338th in offensive efficiency. That, folks, is very bad.
But I do think at the end of the day – for as many positives as Thomas can bring with his defense, rebounding and insane athleticism – this is an offense-related problem. The emergence of Charles Bain, the dominance of Malik Petteway and the solid play of Yannis Mendy and Cameron Wilbon makes for a crowded backcourt. Can Thomas shoot well enough to play the two-guard for stretches? So far, that answer is no. Thomas must become a more efficient offensive player, period.
There’s an obvious way to fix part of this issue. Last season, 58.8 percent of Thomas’ shots came at the rim, according to Hoop-Math, and he shot 57.2 percent on those shots. This year, he’s shooting 70 percent at the rim, but only 39 percent of his shots are coming from that area. Finally, his fouls drawn per 40 and free throw rate are both way down, and his free throw shooting percentage has dipped. Again, this feels like confidence.
Even if Thomas’ shot isn’t falling, the fact that he averaged 12 points and shot 50 percent on 2-point shots last season is a credit to him moving without the ball, which leads to a solid offense. RMU desperately needs that.
It feels like a possibility Thomas just won’t play again this year, too. This has a very Leondre Washington-like feel to it. As you may recall, Toole put his foot down on Washington last season. Despite having some useful offensive qualities, Washington was benched for six of the final seven games and asked not to return to the program.
Could that happen to Thomas? Well, there’s surely precedent.
And that would be massively disappointing. Even if Thomas never reaches his full potential, he is the exact type of role piece I would want on a championship team. He is a great, great rebounder in the NEC, has shown improved defense and can bring the energy up with a massive dunk. You never know when he’s going to strike.
Things are trending in the wrong direction. It seems more likely that Thomas is out of the program in three months than playing in the NEC tournament. And yes, there will be other mid-major programs who will look past his shooting numbers, see his athleticism and accolades and believe they can “fix” him.
Koby Thomas still has a place at Robert Morris. Can they make it work?