Feb. 25, 2008
Brittney Thomas is not your average freshman basketball player. The point guard from Bolingbrook, Ill., won a state championship in high school and has brought that same winning mentality to Michigan State. She has started every game this season and leads all Big Ten freshmen in minutes played (34.7 avg.), assists (3.7 avg.) and steals (2.0 avg.). Thomas is also among the team leaders in scoring (7.7 ppg) and rebounds (5.0 ppg), all while shooting over 50 percent from the field.
You were rated a top-100 player by several organizations coming out of high school. Was that a lot of pressure to come into college and perform at that level?
"Actually, I've never really been a stat person. So people would ask me what I averaged in points, and I couldn't tell you in high school and I can't tell you now in college. I just kind of look more toward the bigger picture, and to me it's just all about the team being successful. So if sometimes that means I have to sit on the bench for awhile, sure I don't like it, but if that's what it's going to take to get us a win, I'm all for it. I didn't feel a lot of pressure coming out of high school, because I didn't really pay attention to everybody's expectations of me, I was just focused on playing basketball. I knew I was going to be able to contribute to the team this year, and I've learned a lot since the beginning. So for a freshman I think I'm doing okay."
What does it mean to you when coach says, "We've gotten to the point in the season when these freshman aren't really freshman anymore."
"To me the only difference in college from a freshman to a senior is experience, because I think everyone has a high basketball IQ once you get to the Division I level. So experience is really the only thing. Once freshman start getting that under their belt and we're having two or three freshmen starting every game, it's saying, `okay, we're kind of accepting the experience you've gotten, now work with it and go.'"
How has your perspective changed this year?
"I think it's just a lot more reading the defenses and playing smart basketball. You have to read (the court) a lot more when you're at the Division I level. Everyone at this level is athletic and can play basketball. So it's not so much just getting lucky and jumping higher, or shooting better than anyone, but you have to know where people are on the floor, when to help out, and the purpose of a game plan. You have to know what you're doing, so I think it has become more of a mental game."
You are averaging 35 minutes a game as a freshman. Did you expect to play this much when you signed on here?
"I knew I had a chance to be a starter but I couldn't tell you that I would be playing the entire game. I think that did surprise me a little. But I was ready to step up to the challenge. It's been fun. I don't get that tired really. Coach always says that if I work really hard and I need a break I can tell her, but I really don't get a chance to often, because when the other teams scores I have to get the ball and go. If she sees me breathing heavy she'll ask me if I need a break, but most of the time I tell her it's okay."
You are putting up some impressive numbers in the rebounding category as a guard - what's your philosophy on rebounding?
"I think it just comes down to going hard, and it helps when you're athletic and can jump. Especially as a guard, sometimes people forget about you because guards typically don't like to crash the boards as much as a post. So I think a lot of times it's just catching people off guard. I use practice time as a chance to really improve my rebounding, because you just have to watch the ball and read where it's going to bounce off, and most of the time I can just get under it."
Do you feel as a freshman it is one of your responsibilities to lead this team?
"I don't feel as a freshman it's one of my responsibilities but I definitely feel as a point guard it is. I mean you're the coach on the floor everyone always says. You're the one calling the plays and telling people where they need to go or if they forget something. I think definitely in the beginning I wasn't as vocal, but now that we are more comfortable with each other, and the players see that I respect them more and they also respect me, it's gotten a lot easier. So I think that helps because we are more willing to listen and help each other."
How much has your comfort level grown throughout the year?
"It's grown tenfold. It's just turned around because we had adversity at the beginning of the year. None of us knew each other and we were in a new program. Now we're just buying into the coaches' philosophies and seeing the success. The more you play with people the more comfortable you're going to be. Now I know that maybe a bounce pass isn't the greatest pass to (Allyssa) DeHaan, or Courtney (Davidson) likes to shoot the three, so I should be ready to rebound. I think we've turned the corner, and I've just gotten more comfortable as we all get more experience together."
What is your greatest strength on the basketball court?
"It has to be my defense and work ethic. I love to work hard. I've had success, but I'm also smart enough to know that I'm not the most talented player you're going to see on the floor. I'm not fancy or anything like that. I can't go between my legs and do all those moves. I just work hard and even when I do mess up, I'm going to fight to get it back."
Even though she has been injured all season, how important has Aisha Jefferson been to the young players on the team?
"I think she's very important, especially now. Even though she's on the bench, she still sees a perspective just like when you watch film. Things that you don't notice because you're on the floor, she can notice off the floor. Everybody has such high regard for her, that whatever she says, you're going to listen to her. She's not telling you things just for fun, she's doing it to improve the team. Everybody respects her so much, it's like you just listen to her for the reason that you know she's right. She does a good job keeping up the energy if we're losing intensity on the floor, and tells us to pick it up in the timeouts."
Are you more of a vocal leader or do you lead more by example?
"I'm definitely a lead-by-example kind of person. All of my career, I've had people say that I need to step up and be vocal. For me, I've always felt that if you do it right and keep doing it, people will start to notice. But I have learned that you need to balance the two, especially as a point guard, and you might have to use your words sometimes."