Some roads are clearer than others, but they all lead somewhere.
For Aaron Thomas, Florida State’s sensational junior guard, that road has led him to a place that, as a kid playing street ball in Cincinnati seemed so unfamiliar, a place where he now steps into a leadership role on FSU’s basketball team.
Thomas grew up on the west side of Cincinnati in a neighborhood called English Woods -- and that’s where he fell in love with the game of basketball. Though, it was a much different style of ball than he has become accustomed to at Florida State.
It’s not always a transition players are able to make, coming from a style of ball so rugged and reckless. There aren’t any referees; there aren’t any fouls called – players have to fight through the onerous environment to earn respect from their peers. And maybe that’s what has made FSU’s Thomas so resilient.
"It’s a different kind of ball out there and you have to play hard to earn your respect," Thomas said. "There’s no Mr. Nice Guy – nobody’s going to give you anything. Where I come from, you either make it or you don’t."
It’s that very same mentality that Thomas takes with him every time he steps onto the court, giving it everything he has on every play because that’s how he learned to play the game of basketball. But leadership is something he has had to learn along the way, picking things up from guys like Michael Snaer and Okaro White.
"There weren’t really any leaders playing ball in the neighborhood growing up," Thomas said, "everyone’s out there playing for themselves and trying to prove something."
Following a sophomore season in which he averaged a team-high 14.5 points per game, Thomas will return to the court bearing the weight on his shoulders. But he won’t only be looked to at Florida State -- he also comes back as one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s top talents.
While Thomas remains humble about the fact, the players and coaches around him aren’t as meek about his abilities, whether on the court or as a leader. For instance, Kiel Turpin, the redshirt graduate who was granted his sixth-year of eligibility after missing the entire 2013-2014 season with a leg injury, didn’t hesitate to compliment Thomas in that regard.
"I’ve seen a lot of really talented kids during my basketball career, but sometimes you can just tell a kid is different," Turpin said. "AT [Thomas] has been one of those guys since the day he stepped on campus. He has ridiculous work ethic and the kid can straight up ball. I think he’ll be great as the go-to guy – it almost makes him better that way."
The Seminoles will return to the hardwood after a 22-14 record led to their second consecutive season outside the NCAA Tournament, but Thomas is determined to lead his squad into March.
Having spent the summer participating in rigorous workouts to improve every aspect of his game, he has focused on his jump shot. Calling team managers as early as eight in the morning to meet him at the gym to take hundreds of shots from various spots on the court, Thomas is insistent on not only improving his game, but also setting an example, a tone for the upcoming season.
For a guy in Thomas, whose foundation and toughness comes from playing street ball on the west side of Cincinnati as a kid, he sure possesses the leadership attributes that, according to him, do not exist in that style of basketball.
"It’s been a long summer for me but extremely useful at the same time," Thomas said. "I’ve put in a lot of work so I can come out even stronger next year, and I just want the younger guys to see that. That’s one thing I’ve learned from some of the guys that aren’t here anymore is how to set an example. You have to figure out the best way to communicate and get through to the younger guys, and what better way to do that than leading by example on and off the court."