We freakin’ love Isaiah Thomas, and we’re not bashful about it either. The 5-9 point guard was selected with the last pick, No. 60, by the Kings in the 2011 NBA Draft, and he has met every challenge since head-on. His ability to score and lead the offense is the result of all his hard work, and it played a role in forcing Sacramento to switch Tyreke Evans to a small forward role. He also beat out a succession of point guards to retain the starting point guard spot in each of his three seasons in the NBA. We got lucky and spent a long time chatting with him by phone as he mentally prepared to face Detroit earlier this week.
Zeke will be a restricted free agent this summer when his three-year rookie deal ends, and Dime caught up with him to discuss his plans for the future and what the Kings might have in store for him, plus what it’s like playing alongside DeMarcus Cousins. We also ask him how he remains so overwhelmingly positive and hungry during another losing season, who he studies and looks up to at the point guard spot and a whole lot more during an engrossing 35 minutes.
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Dime: You mentioned on Twitter missing your two sons, how old are they, and how do you deal with the separation on long road trips like the one you’re on now?
Isaiah Thomas: They’re 3 and 2. They’re a year and a half apart.
Dime: No school for them, I’m assuming.
IT: No school. But it’s tough for them. Their dad has to leave. They understand basketball and that I play, but they don’t know â€” it’s just hard man, it’s hard when I have to go. Every time I have to go or I’m getting ready to leave the house, they go crazy and start crying and stuff. But with FaceTime and stuff like that these days, I see them every day when I FaceTime them when I’m away playing basketball. I always try and spend time with them, every time I’m on the road. We’ve actually been on the road 14 days, so I actually Facetimed yesterday just to keep them having fun and playing and smiling and they like it that much better.
Dime: You guys got new ownership, a new coach, a new general manager. Is it tough that you’re still struggling this year and how do you stay positive? You quote the bible a lot on your Twitter account, is that what you do to stay so optimistic with all the losing? Most guys would just go through the motionsâ€”
IT: That’s just me. I know that every day is another opportunity. Especially in the game of basketball to get better and showcase your skills. So every day I’m trying to be me and trying to have fun. This game, I don’t take this game for granted. Especially to be in the position I’m in. And the situation is tough, when you’re not winning and you want to win, but at the same time you’re still blessed to be able to play this game. Make a lot of money playing this game. I try to take every day as a new challenge and have a smile on my face. Because if I have a smile on my face, and I have a lot of energy, that wears on the next guy. I just worry about the things I can control, and that’s going out there, working hard, playing to win and having fun. And that’s all I know.
Dime: That’s great. The business of basketball, sometimes guys lose that. Speaking of the business, you’re coming up on the end of your rookie deal and you’ve been consistently beating out other guys at the point guard spot. Do you ever want to come into camp as the starter, with the team in your hands and not have to beat out someone to get your spot? Or do you like that challenge. It seems like you feed off it a little.
IT: Yeah, one day I hope that I get into camp in a comfortable position to where I know it is my team and I’m gonna be running the team from the jump, but I understand the game of basketball; I understand that it’s a business; I understand that â€” for other people, I’m 5-9, and they’re always going to have doubts in the back of their heads because I’m a small guard. A lot of small guards don’t make it, and if they do, they’re not in the position I’m in, where I’m starting and trying to lead an NBA team. I like all challenges. I’m not gonna put my head down. I’m just gonna keep working and no matter who you bring in…three years in a row: first year it was Jimmer; second year it was Aaron Brooks; third year it was Greivis Vasquez, and no matter what I’m gonna keep fighting, and keep playing my heart out and keep doing the things I know how to do. I’m gonna play as hard as possible and control the things I can control. At the end of the day, if it is what is â€” hopefully I’m that starting point guard and I’m leading the team.
Dime: We spoke over the summer about you working on your game going right. But after looking at a lot of film, defenders still slip into channeling you to the left side. Does that still happen, even though people know you’re left-handed?
IT: Yeah, I definitely notice it. That’s why a lot of times I’m coming off my left hand. I think it’s just kind of hard to guard a lefty because there aren’t that many around; you’re so used to guarding right-handed guys. But sometimes guys are in coverages and stuff that send guys left, which I definitely want to go to. But even when I’m playing against a lefty â€” like Brandon Jennings, who I’m going against tonight â€” you’re confused a little bit about sending him left or right since you’re used to playing a guy that’s right-handed.
Dime: That was our follow-up question. Do you get confused too, when you’re going up against a lefty?
IT: Yeah, you gotta be locked in. Sometimes, just going back to your basketball instincts, you’re [usually] going against a guy that’s right-handed.
Dime: Are there any other lefties that give you problems because they’re left-handed?
IT: Lefties are hard to guard anyway, so Brandon Jennings is a tough cover, [Goran] Dragic for the Suns, he’s tough ’cause he’s left-handed. It’s just â€” you can ask anybody: left-handers are always tough to guard because it’s more uncommon.