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Bulls Go for `Freak' Athlete

July 02, 2006|Mike Downey | Chicago Tribune

I keep hearing Tyrus "T-Time" Thomas is a "freak" athlete. Apparently, it's a compliment.

If I heard this word once Wednesday before he became a Chicago Bull, I heard it a half-dozen times. Steve Kerr used it on a Yahoo pod-cast. Jay Bilas used it on ESPN. I am pretty sure Stephen A. Smith and Dick Vitale did also, but the shrieks from their freakishly loud voices broke my eardrums so I'm not sure.

Thomas is a "freak," these basketball experts keep on saying ... in a very nice way.

(I hope they don't need to undergo sensitivity training.)

What they mean is this 19-year-old from LSU can run and jump like you can't believe. I guess if you want to see a guy fly, you don't need to go to a Superman movie.

"He's the best athlete that we've had for a long, long time," marveled Bulls general manager John Paxson, who has played with a few super dudes in his day.

If it turns out that T-Time Thomas can jump like Michael Jordan, rebound like Dennis Rodman and spread those wings of his and play defense like Scottie Pippen, well, fans, the sky's the limit.

After all, this Bulls team did beat the Miami Heat twice in the Eastern Conference playoffs. That's every bit as good as that goofball Mark Cuban's Dallas Mavericks were able to do in the NBA Finals.

This team is close to giving Chicago something special again -- very close.

The TV talking heads were raving about the Bulls' moves, which included a tall guard from Sweden with the gaudy name of Thabo Sefolosha.

That's why I sure do hope Paxson and the Bulls' decision-makers were right to do what they did in Wednesday's draft -- pass up the size of LaMarcus Aldridge, the shooting eye of Adam Morrison, the maturity of Brandon Roy, etc.

"We feel his potential is better than anyone else's in this draft," Paxson said of using the No. 2 pick on a kid who played at LSU for only one year.

I have to admit that this young Cajun Bull makes me more than a little nervous.

First of all, maybe he can rebound like Rodman, but he also shoots like Rodman.

Many of the points he gets -- and he doesn't get that many -- seem to come on putback rebounds. He has absolutely no range I have seen.

The last time I saw him play, meantime, UCLA mopped up the floor with him. It was a Final Four game in Indianapolis and I would be kind if I told you Thomas was a non-factor in it. You never would know he was even on the court.

He also strikes me as a little fragile, for that alleged great athletic body of his.

Thomas missed his first year at LSU with a neck injury. He sprained a finger in the Hofstra game. He sprained an ankle and sat out four games. He didn't work out for Toronto, Houston or Charlotte before the NBA draft because he said he had a groin strain.

And when young T-Time came to do a workout for the Bulls, he cut it short because of an upset stomach. He said he thought he might have gotten a bad meal.

For a 19-year-old, the kid sure does seem to come up with a lot of aches and pains.

So, cross your fingers.

Our baby Bulls might have just gotten better, but they also got even younger. Last season's team began the season with the youngest roster in NBA history. Average age: 22.9 years. Mike Jordan has gym shoes older than that.

The Bulls' nucleus now is made up of Kirk Hinrich (25), Andres Nocioni (26), Tyson Chandler (23), Ben Gordon (23), Chris Duhon (23), Michael Sweetney (23), Luol Deng (21) and the new first-round bonus babies, Thomas and that 22-year-old from Sweden.

This is one young team.

It might not be fully formed yet. Paxson has his eyes on another prize, a big man to play in the paint. If he has the money and good fortune to lure Ben Wallace away from Detroit, this team would have the potential to be, well, super.

Thomas will try to fly. His first task: Try to find something else to wear on his shirt. The No. 12 that he has worn since the 8th grade belongs to Hinrich, the Bulls' captain.

At 19, Thomas was a little boy in Baton Rouge back when Jordan, Paxson and the Bulls were winning championships. When asked if he was a Bulls fan in those days, T-Time quickly replied, "Who wasn't?"

Maybe winning six NBA titles was a freaky thing to do. Maybe winning a seventh won't be.

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