Artistry flowed from Deshaun Thomas in the variety of ways he used to put the basketball in the hoop for Ohio State.
His creative spirit has found a home as a professional player in Paris, just as the French capital lured authors and artists during the 1920s in what Gertrude Stein called “the Lost Generation.”
Thomas doesn’t possess a similar sense of alienation, even though he would have been an OSU senior this season had he not left school early to enter the NBA draft. Instead, the expatriate in high-tops is at peace with not yet being in the NBA and is filled with the idea of endless possibilities when it comes to his basketball career.
“I’m in a good position to be successful and to keep following my dreams,” Thomas said in a telephone interview from Paris. “It’s great to be over here. I’m learning a new culture and learning a new language.
“You can’t knock it at all. It’s not the way you start, it’s how you end. I’m making money and doing something I love. That’s a blessing.”
Having lost four of five games after a 15-0 start, Ohio State certainly could use a dash of the offensive flair Thomas flashed the previous three seasons, including last year, when he led the Big Ten in scoring. Thomas is instead filling it up for Nanterre, a professional team based in the Paris suburbs, after he slipped to the 58th overall selection in the NBA draft as a second-round pick of the San Antonio Spurs.
Despite his draft fall, Thomas doesn’t regret leaving OSU, although it hasn’t been easy for him to see the Buckeyes’ struggles in recent games on TV in the middle of the night in France.
“It’s tough watching the guys lose,” Thomas said. “I think, ‘Dang, I could be out there helping them.’ I miss Ohio State.
“It’s a great campus with great fans. But I had to make a decision and move on. … I made a decision, and I stuck with it. I keep moving forward.”
San Antonio maintains the rights to Thomas, 22, through the next NBA draft, and the team is keeping close tabs on him.
Spurs assistant general manager Scott Layden has traveled to Paris twice to see Thomas play.
“He has a good work ethic and a good mental state,” Layden said. “He understands the areas that he needs to work on, and he wants to work on getting better. … It was a good challenge for him, and he has accepted that challenge. I think he’s going to be a good player.”
Thomas is working particularly on his defense to prove capable, at 6 feet 7 and 215 pounds, of guarding quicker small forwards and stronger power forwards. That uncertainty kept the Spurs from guaranteeing he would make their roster.
Second-round draft picks don’t receive guaranteed money, and the NBA D-League doesn’t pay much. After considering offers to play in Russia and Spain, Thomas deemed France his best fit and headed to Paris five months ago.
Thomas signed a one-year deal for $150,000 (not including bonus money, and tax free) and a free car and rent-free apartment to join a team that includes former Buckeyes teammate David Lighty, whose presence has helped in Thomas’ adjustment.
So, too, is the fact that Thomas is living 10 minutes outside of Paris in Nanterre — a small town that he said reminds him of his hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind. — with his girlfriend, Jasmine Lewis, and their son, Deshaun Jr., who turns 2 in March.
“We got him a rim for Christmas,” Thomas said. “I’m trying to get his jumper right, get him tight.”
It took a little while for Thomas to become accustomed to the European style of basketball, especially with the way referees call the game.
“They get you on the first step,” Thomas said. “If I don’t get that first step down flat, they’re blowing the whistle. I try to argue with them, but no way.”
The atmosphere at games has proved to be different, too.
“The fans are crazy,” Thomas said. “They’re very loud. They’ve got these drums — like the loudest drums you’ve ever heard.”
A trip to Serbia, he added, offered a new life experience.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It was way different than the Big Ten,” Thomas said. “I saw SWAT cops everywhere. We came in, and the fans were throwing stuff. The benches had plastic around them so it wouldn’t hit you. A guy comes out and sweeps it up like nothing has happened. I’m like, ‘Where is this?’ ”
For now, Thomas is in one of the world’s most famous cities, soaking up its cultural experiences — although his restaurants of choice remain Chipotle and the Hard Rock Cafe.
“Paris is big,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be able to see everything. I went to see the Mona Lisa (at the Louvre). That was a big museum.
“I went to Notre Dame (Cathedral). I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower many times, although I haven’t gone up to the top yet. I’m a little afraid of heights.”
Thomas, however, is not afraid to think big. His basketball future is a blank canvas.
“I’m happy,” he said. “I have many more years and many more dreams to go.”