TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As the reigning ACC player of the year and Florida State’s leading scorer for each of the last two seasons, Shakayla Thomas’ body of work speaks for itself. Now on the heels of FSU’s Elite Eight run that ended minutes short of the Final Four, Thomas is set to add another line to her resume: Senior leader.
When the Seminoles take the floor this fall, they’ll do so without standouts Leticia Romero, Brittany Brown and Ivey Slaughter, three of the most accomplished and winningest seniors in the program’s history.
Which means that, in addition to her abilities on the court, Thomas will be counted on to guide a young team as it transitions into life with a new core of players.
“I’m trying to be a leader now,” Thomas said. “The people here are going to look up to me, whereas I used to look up to (the seniors). It’s big shoes to fill and I’m ready for the ride.”
Thomas has the on-court part of the job pretty much down pat. Her blend of strength and athleticism might be unmatched in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and her ability to both drive to the basket and pull up for jump shots make her a near-impossible matchup.
But Thomas, who arrived in Tallahassee three years ago as a shy freshman from Sylacauga, Ala., said she’s focused on using her voice and energy to complement her scoring touch this fall.
It’s not something that always came naturally, but Thomas is using two fine examples as a guide.
“I know I learned a lot from Brittany and Ivey,” she said. “Being a leader, being vocal and keeping everything together.”
Replacing the departed seniors will be no small feat for the Seminoles.
That group won more games than any senior class in FSU history, two members (Romero and Kai James) were selected in the WNBA draft earlier this month and two more (Brown and Slaughter) are in WNBA training camps.
Still, FSU coach Sue Semrau believes that if anyone can soften that blow, it’s Thomas.
“No question,” Semrau said. “I think she’s just been waiting for it. I’m excited to see her become a leader and a more complete player.”
If she can do that, then FSU ought to once again be able to make some noise in a women’s college basketball landscape that looks drastically different in the wake of South Carolina’s victory in the NCAA tournament.
The Gamecocks claimed the national title after knocking off Mississippi State, which shocked the sports world by beating No. 1 Connecticut and snapping the Huskies’ 111-game winning streak in the Final Four.
As she watched the Huskies go down for the first time in two years, Thomas felt both shocked and excited – Mississippi State hero Morgan William is a childhood friend of Thomas’ – but she also couldn’t help wondering what might have been.
FSU lost to South Carolina, 71-64, in the Elite Eight.
“If we had come in like we normally play, that could have been us,” Thomas said. “I feel like UConn going down, it opens a lot of windows for different programs. That shows that anything can happen.”
With her final year at FSU on the horizon, Thomas hopes that “anything” means Florida State’s first trip to the Final Four.
After stopping on the doorstep of the national semifinal in two of her first three seasons, Thomas is planning to lead the Seminoles right through that door as a senior.
“That’s what I’m here to do,” she said. “Break records, make history.”