Known for her calm demeanor on the court, Phoenix Mercury forward Sam Thomas felt anything but calm in her first professional game. Thomas, who played five seasons at Arizona, was starting to feel the same nerves she had before the national championship game in 2021.
With an absence of veteran players like forward Brianna Turner and wing Diamond DeShields due to overseas commitments, the rookies on the Mercury are seeing more action during the preseason. Turner and DeShields are still playing in Italy and are expected to miss the season opener on May 6.
Losing a dynamic center in Brittney Griner also created a void coming into training camp with the team focusing in on six different forwards vying for a spot.
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Thomas made the starting five as a small forward ahead of Thursday’s preseason opener against the Seattle Storm, which set off her nerves even more.
“I was freaking out, I was so scared. I walked out and took my first shot and my whole body just tensed up. I was so scared,” Thomas said. “I talked to Diana and I was like, I’m so nervous. She said, just run fast, run hard, and rebound. All you have to do is the little things and that will take your nerves into that. That’s what I tried to do and then I knew when I was open for the shots, hit them and do my job. I just focused on my job and what I can do and what I can control.”
The advice helped and masked what looked like another controlled performance from Thomas. The 6’0” small forward knocked down three 3-pointers and led with 27:22 minutes on the floor. Although the Mercury ultimately fell 82-78, Thomas put herself on head coach Vanessa Nygaard’s radar even more with plays like her 3-pointer with 18.4 seconds left on the clock.
“I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, I yelled at her and said, Make a play! And she made a play,” Nygaard said.
Thomas exemplified the dedication with her five seasons at Arizona that eventually led to a national championship run, but she hadn’t seen action at the professional level yet for a full evaluation. Her first game was threatened by four personal fouls, but Thomas continued to make an impact even after playing in limited action in the third quarter.
“Just to see how she’s doing her thing, she’s so calm. I always try to stay calm because I don’t want the players to freak out so I have to be calm, but she calms me. I’m really excited to see her out there and get to do what she can do. She’s proved she has some WNBA skills,” Nygaard said.
Guard Kiana Williams earned an opportunity to showcase her shooting when she went 3-of-3 from the 3-point line in the second half. Williams settled down after finding trouble in the first half with making shots.
“I had really good looks and some of them didn’t fall down, but I knew they just wanted us to come and be aggressive. I was getting some of my spots, they just weren’t falling down, but it felt good to finally get some of them down,” Williams said.
Recent third-round pick Maya Dodson grabbed four rebounds and scored four points on nearly 20 minutes of play.
Veteran guards Diana Taurasi and Sophie Cunningham did not play in the game.
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