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Columnist
Thomas spreads hope, Bulls see it in fourth-year forward
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/28/2009 12:16 AM

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Since last season ended, Bulls forward Tyrus Thomas started an outreach program for at-risk kids in his hometown of Baton Rouge, La., sponsored a school supply giveaway and spoke to students at the new Chicago Bulls College Prep high school.

More than just showing up for required appearances, Thomas is helping create avenues to help in the community.

"It appeals to me because that was me," Thomas said. "I was the one who stood in line to get the backpacks full of supplies that I gave out. I gave away school shoes. I was one of those kids whose mom was always looking for help getting school clothes."

Thomas, 23, already is getting recognition for his generosity. He was given the Lubin Award for community service from the Bulls last year, and he has been nominated for a Jefferson Award, which honors athletes for their charity work. Aug. 2 was Tyrus Thomas Day in Baton Rouge.

"I don't really care if I get recognized for what I do because I do it for the people that I help and myself," he said Sunday at the Berto Center. "When you're put in that situation where you can help people, I think it's only right."

Bulls fans might be frustrated by the relatively shallow slope of improvement by Thomas. He was the No. 4 pick in the 2006 draft, traded for LaMarcus Aldridge, who is off to a good start in Portland.

Thomas was given some quick hooks during the playoff series against Boston in the spring and didn't always react well.

There was even talk during the summer that the Bulls tried hard to trade away Thomas, but it was nonsense. Did they offer him for Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer? Yeah, probably. But that doesn't mean they were eager to unload Thomas.

The Bulls see that the hyperathletic 6-foot-9 forward has improved his game every year, to 10.8 points and 6.4 rebounds last season. And Thomas' attention to community service hasn't gone unnoticed in the front office. General Manager Gar Forman mentioned on media day how much the team values quality of character.

When the Bulls look at Thomas, they still see plenty of hope. He's young in age, was a late bloomer as a basketball player and is clearly someone who cares.

"When he's playing at a high level, he's a difference-maker for us," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "He's got to be more consistent. I expect him to play at a very high level for us, and he needs to. He's an important part of what we're trying to do."

When he wasn't working with the ninth-graders in his C.A.T.C.H. Youth Retention program, Thomas spent the summer working on his shot - his spot-up jumpers and some moves that initiate in the post.

"I was watching Magic Johnson and he said every summer he just wanted to add one thing, get real good at that," Thomas said. "I focused on being able to consistently knock down the 15-17 foot jumper. I'm real comfortable with that."

Don't cringe. Remember, the one time the Bulls won a road playoff game in Boston, the game-winning basket was a 21-foot Thomas jumper.

There have been a few times in the regular season when Thomas made some clutch baskets. With Ben Gordon gone, the Bulls need a variety of offensive contributors.

"I see myself improving a lot," Thomas said. "I know where I want to be and where I could be. Right now I'm in a situation where I just have to find my exact role on this team. Once that's defined, I'll probably give you more of a prediction."

Hinrich sits out: Kirk Hinrich became the first casualty of training camp when he sat out Sunday's morning workout with a tight hamstring, but the Bulls don't expect the injury to be significant.