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Lizi Arbogast / The Outlook Central Coosa's Dequalon Thomas (2) racked up 21 points, including five 3-pointers, against Benjamin Russell on Friday night. He is the Outlook Player of the Week.

For the first five games of the season, Central Coosa’s boys basketball coach Richard Bell wasn’t sure about starting Dequalon Thomas.

After all, Thomas is just a freshman and he doesn’t have much in the way of size. Plus, Central Coosa’s first five opponents included teams like Talladega, Sylacauga, Dadeville and Childersburg, all of which boast a lot of height and athleticism. But Thomas got some time and quickly proved himself.

Since then, he’s been inserted into the starting lineup and it’s changed the game for the Cougars. With each passing game, Thomas seems to get better and better and he reached an all-time high Friday night in a big rivalry game against Benjamin Russell. Thomas caught fire from beyond the arch, pouring in five 3-pointers and leading the offense with 21 points. He is the Outlook Player of the Week.

“He’s just a good jump shooter,” Bell said. “He practices with it a lot. With the offense we run, we really try to get the guards open and the shots just came for him (Friday night) and he knocked them down.”

But Bell wasn’t surprised by Thomas’ performance against the Wildcats. If anything, he’s come to expect that out of his freshman point guard.

“He’s shot the ball well this whole year,” Bell said. “He’s at the point where when he shoots it, I think it’s going in. I’m almost surprised when it doesn’t. Him and Noel (Jones), we’re always looking for the 3-pointer for them and they know they always have the green light. And they’re happy to do it. I tell them to shoot and they have a good time throwing it up there.”

Thomas stands at just 5-foot-7 and about 120 pounds, according to Bell, but he plays beyond his size. Bell said a big thing about Thomas is he’s never been afraid to go up against bigger competition and that’s what allows him to make up for his small stature.

“I really think he might be the next one to come from Coosa County,” Bell said. “We have a tradition of a really good player coming through every year, and I think he could be the next one. He’s shown me he could handle this situation, and he’s small in stature but his game is way beyond his size.”

Given the fact he’s only a freshman, there’s no reason to say Thomas won’t hit a growth spurt. And it’s not just his scoring that makes Thomas an important part of the Cougars’ starting five. Against Benjamin Russell, Thomas also put up five assists proving he can dish it just as well as he can score it. In last Tuesday’s game against Reeltown, Thomas had only 10 points but stuffed the rest of the stat sheet with five rebounds, two assists and three steals.

“He’s really an (all-around) player,” Bell said. “He dribbles, shoots, passes, rebounds, and he does all of it well. The older he gets, I expect he’s just going to keep developing those skills and I’ve come to expect it out of Dequalon. It’s hard to believe he’s a ninth-grader.”

With the graduation of Jones looming — a player who has been the leading scorer for three straight seasons — Bell doesn’t worry about the future of the program and that’s thanks in large part to Thomas.

“There’s just an upward trajectory for him,” Bell said. “He was a little nervous about starting at first, but he’s earned my respect and he’s earned the team’s respect. He’s one of the players I worry about the least; he’s very low maintenance and I look forward to a bright future with him. We have a ready-made scorer ready to take over.”

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.