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The emergence of Ibrahima Thomas

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Ibrahima Thomas looked lost. Worse, he looked overmatched. Even worse, he looked out of control and destructive.

The first game of Thomas' UC career came in the blazing, hot fire of the Crosstown Shootout. And the Bearcats' transfer center burned.

His first shot was an airball. Six more followed in only seven minutes and only one dropped in. He drew two personal fouls and found himself in the middle of a brouhaha at midcourt.

For UC fans who edged to the front of their recliners at the first view of this hyped transfer from Oklahoma State it brought a disappointing sigh.

In the proceeding games, his awkward moments became less and less commonplace. He began to finish around the rim. He began to drain 3-pointers. He began to utilize his 6-foot-11 frame.

Thomas averaged 5.1 points and 3.8 rebounds over the first 15 game last year. 

In the final 13, he scored 6.5 points and pulled down 7.3 rebounds.

By the end of the season, he was undeniably the most improved player on the Bearcats roster. Though, it's an award that was his to lose. The native of Dakar, Senegal didn't play in many games before coming to the U.S. and ending up at Oklahoma State.

Shockingly, pickup games are hard to find on the eastern tip of Africa.

"They just did drills," Mick Cronin said. "Thomas just needs live game play as much as possible."

He's getting that as he spends time this summer as a counseler at an Adidas Elite Camp where he'll take part in games along with some of the best players in college basketball.

After a year of watching the Thomas project mature and learn the ropes, the senior is ready to make the time spent watching him fail last year worth every second.

Despite all the talk of the necessary emergence of Yancy Gates, the continued evolution of Ibrahima Thomas is more certain and nearly as impactful.    

Take a look at some of the biggest wins of last season for UC. Start with the Big East tournament against Louisville: Thomas chipped in 8 points and 8 rebounds. A win at UConn in February: 10 points, 11 boards. Two home games where UC played well but eventually fell to Syracuse and Marquette, he averaged 10.5 points and 8.5 rebounds.

The games where Thomas figured out his way to contribute were ones where UC was at its collective best. Another offseason of work, season of games in the pocket and expanded role as a starter next season would infer consistency is on the horizon.  

Evidence of Thomas' cognitive ability regarding the game thus far would assure it.

"Thomas was 185 pounds when he came over here," Cronin said. "He thought he was going to make it as a jump shooter. He now understands that he can make it as a guy who is 6-11, can run like a deer, can block shots, rebound and become a better finisher around the rim and knock down the occasional open shot."

Cronin went on to point out Thomas will never own the body of Gates and nobody should expect him to be playing at 200 pounds next season. But they should expect Thomas to be playing well above the level at which we last left him.

If combined with a parallel emergence from Gates in a Big East heavy on guards and weak on big men, they could be among the top interior combos in the conference.  

"I am really optimistic about the season he is going to have," Cronin said. "He has tremendous aptitude. You talk to him about things, he understands."

There will be no erasing the tape of that first game against Xavier. There is no misremembering those feelings of disappointment from UC fans in the first glimpses of this anticipated transfer. 

But, little by little, Thomas is turning that game into an example of how far he has come rather than a statement of where he will be. 

"My guess is," Cronin said, "by next March we are all going to wish we had him for another year."

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