Every Batman needs their Robin. Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen. Shaquille O'Neal had Kobe Bryant and Penny Hardaway. Tom Brady has Rob Gronkowski. There are countless dynamic duos throughout history. For the Arizona women’s basketball team, the dynamic duo is Aari McDonald and Sam Thomas.
When Thomas first got to the University of Arizona, it seemed as though she would be Batman and not Robin. In the 2017 class, Thomas was the highest-rated recruit for the Wildcats.
She immediately took command of the helm, becoming the team captain of the squad in the blink of an eye. That season, Thomas earned Pac-12 All-Freshman honors while leading all Pac-12 freshmen in rebounding, steals, blocks and minutes. She also finished second among freshmen in scoring.
Although Thomas had a great season, the same can not be said for the team. They won just six games in the 2017-18 season and the program’s future looked bleak. In the 2018-19 season, however, this program’s abysmal reputation was altered by a shining light. A star was born in transfer Aari McDonald.
Arizona head coach Adia Barnes, once McDonald’s head coach at the University of Washington, had convinced McDonald that a reunion in Tucson would be in their best interest. Boy was she right. McDonald would go on to lead the Wildcats in points and assists that season while also leading the team to 18 more wins.
At the same time, she began taking the attention away from Thomas. McDonald had become Batman, and Thomas had become Robin.
Thomas was still the team captain and one of the most important players on the team. But now, the spotlight was not shining as brightly on her. But this didn’t deter her. She saw McDonald blossoming into a star not as something to be jealous of, but as a symbol of hope to lead the program into a brighter future.
Knowing she can rely on McDonald to stuff the stat sheet every game, Thomas began to find her new role on the team. Like anyone that truly knows basketball, she knew that impacting a game is not all about points and statistics. It is also about basketball I.Q. and leadership. Both of which she is able to bestow upon the rest of the team.
Thomas is the glue that holds the team together. Much like Draymond Green on the Golden State Warriors. All basketball fans know Steph Curry is by far the best player on the team. However, Green is the one that brings the energy and grit to the court. He is the heart and soul of the team.
This is what Thomas brings to the Wildcats. It is because of this that she was named team captain for the entirety of her career at the University of Arizona. In this current season, the team has needed Thomas’ leadership more than ever.
Being a student-athlete is a grueling task. With the added pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic, many student-athletes nationwide opted out of playing. There was too much uncertainty.
Will the season even happen? How many games will be played? Will there be fans?
There was also the issue of whether the players would be able to see their families and friends without the risk of catching the virus. For many, these uncertainties were too much to handle, but not for the Wildcats.
Through the leadership of Thomas and coach Barnes, as well as the phenomenal play of McDonald and the rest of the team, the Wildcats achieved a record of 20-5 this season while also going 13-4 in Pac-12 play. Thomas also achieved Pac-12 All-Defense honors as well as All-Pac-12 honorable mention.
But it didn’t end there. The Wildcats found themselves in the program’s first-ever Final Four appearance against the all-time powerhouse University of Connecticut Huskies and the first-ever freshman to be named AP Player of the Year in Paige Bueckers.
We all know now what happened next.
From six wins to a real opportunity at winning a national championship, this is something the team should be astoundingly proud of. And Thomas has been their leader through it all.
She may not be the best player on the team but you can guarantee that, without Thomas, this team would not be where it is right now.
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