It’s real. Sam Thomas is a professional basketball player. The former Arizona wing made her debut as a starter with the Phoenix Mercury in a preseason game against the Seattle Storm on Thursday night. The Mercury lost to the Storm 82-78, but that’s not what preseason is about anyway. It’s about getting ready.
“I was very nervous,” Thomas said. “It was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been since the national championship game. I was freaking out. I was so scared. I walked out there and I took my first shot and walked, my whole body just tensed up. I was so scared. But I talked to Diana (Taurasi) and said, ‘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.’ So that’s just what I tried to do. And then I knew when I was open for the shots, hit them, and just do my job. So I just tried to focus on my job and what I could do and what I can control.”
It wasn’t just a beginning, though. Just weeks after being announced as part of the final starting lineup of the Wildcats’ season in McKale Center, she was being announced as a starter in the Footprint Center alongside greats of the game like Tina Charles and Skylar Diggins-Smith. On the other side of the court were Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart.
“I was kind of expecting coming in here maybe to watch the first couple minutes, watch the stars, but, of course, with the overseas and just some people playing limited minutes, I got the start, so it was very nerve-racking, ”Thomas said. “But it was fun. I kind of got to take my nerves out the first minutes and then settle in a little.”
And Thomas did her job, taking full advantage of the opportunity she was given. She played a team-high 27 minutes. She went 3-for-3 from distance, ending the night with nine points and one rebound. She also made some good first impressions on the people she needed to impress.
“I really was impressed with Sam Thomas,” Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “Really stepping up, making big plays. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I yelled at her. I said, ‘Make a play!’ And she made a play.”
It was the only opportunity she will have to do that in the preseason. The Mercury do not play again until the regular season starts on May 6 when they will host the Las Vegas Aces. Thomas will find out between now and then whether she gets to put on the Phoenix uniform again and officially represent her adopted state at the professional level.
The Mercury have a roster of 18 in camp. They must cut that to 12 or fewer before May 6. They also must get under the salary cap. The team will be keeping some players who won’t be playing. Kia Nurse is injured and will be out all year.
Brittney Griner is currently incarcerated in Russia where she was arrested for allegedly carrying vape cartridges containing some amount of hash oil. When or if she will return this season is up in the air, as is how her salary will count against the Mercury’s salary cap.
All of these things will affect whether Thomas is able to get a roster spot. If she gets one of those coveted 144 WNBA roster positions, she will sign a contract for $60,471.
Unlike Aari McDonald, who was a lottery pick last year and was hailed as a future WNBA star leaving Arizona, Thomas went undrafted. Her ability to step in, deal with the nerves, and do something she didn’t always do at Arizona—score—were huge demonstrations of what she can do. They also reflected on others because Thomas was representing more than herself on Thursday night. She was representing Arizona.
“Adia has done a great job with that program, and Sam is a great reflection of that,” Nygaard said.
Now, Thomas goes back to work in practice and hopes for good news.