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Bulls' Thomas hopes to follow Theriot's road to success here
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 10/3/2007 4:09 PM

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When Bulls rookie Joakim Noah arrived in town this summer, former Southeastern Conference rival Tyrus Thomas tried to help him navigate Chicago by suggesting some places to go, things to do and activities to avoid.

Really, though, Thomas was just returning the favor. The Bulls forward received his "Welcome to Chicago" tutorial a year ago from Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot.

Thomas and Theriot have a connection because both are Baton Rouge, La., natives who stayed home for college and led LSU to glory. Theriot scored the winning run when LSU won the 2000 College World Series, and Thomas led the Tigers to the Final Four in 2006.

So even though Theriot is seven years older, Thomas was quite aware of the future Cub's accomplishments.

"Our city is not the biggest, so anytime anybody excels in anything, you hear about it," Thomas said. "I knew about him from being at LSU and being in Baton Rouge."

After being drafted by the Bulls last summer, one of the Thomas' first duties was to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at Wrigley Field. That's when a public relations staffer introduced Thomas to Theriot in the Cubs clubhouse.

"He kind of showed me around a little bit," Thomas said. "We ate at one spot. He gave me a list of different stuff I could do, told me I could call him if I ever need directions."

Thomas is hoping the Cubs stay alive in the playoffs until the Bulls are finished with two-a-day practices. Then he might be able to make it to a game or at least stay awake late enough to watch on TV.

But first, Thomas is trying to take care of his own business and use his year of NBA experience to be better prepared for a second run through Bulls training camp.

"Now, I knew what was going to happen coming into camp," he said. "What I needed to work on to get better, to get more minutes. I try to focus more mentally on what I have to do each day."

It's no stretch to identify Thomas as the player who could do the most to make the Bulls a championship contender. They were a different team when Thomas brought his off-the-charts athleticism to the floor, as evidenced by the Bulls' 26-5 record in games when the 6-foot-9 forward played at least 15 minutes.

"The guy gets in the game, dunks a couple balls, everyone gets (excited)," coach Scott Skiles said. "I do, too, because I agree there are only a handful of guys that can jump like that and block shots like he can. But we also are dependent on the scheme we run and everybody being on the same page. He's getting there."

Skiles suggested Thomas still needs to get in better shape, though he's taken a step forward from where he was at the start of his first training camp. The Bulls wanted Thomas to build more strength in his legs to avoid the tendinitis he felt during the Orlando summer league in July.

"He's still learning what it takes to be a great player and all that," Skiles said. "Some of the things that are weaknesses in his game, he needs to turn that around. He needs to be more consistent."

Thomas figures to have the best chance to start at power forward this season, but it's not a sure thing. The Bulls could also use Noah, Andres Nocioni or veteran addition Joe Smith.

"That spot is up for grabs between a few guys," Skiles said. "He'll have equal opportunity to earn it just like everyone else will."