As the buzzer sounded to mark the end of Game 4 of the WNBA Finals, the Las Vegas Aces stormed the court to celebrate winning their first WNBA Championship after defeating Alyssa Thomas and the Connecticut Sun.
Thomas had little time to recover from the loss. She needed to get on a plane to Sydney to represent the United States in her FIBA World Cup debut in just three days.
“It was tough,” said Thomas. “I definitely had to think about if I wanted to get on the plane just trying to process it after losing. I felt like it was a great page-turner and a way for me to come out and take some frustration out after losing.”
Thomas’ ability to bounce back after facing a heartbreaking loss is a testament to the type of player she has become. Her resilience and competitive nature set her apart, allowing for her to hit the reset button. Brenda Frese, Thomas’ coach at the University of Maryland from (2010-2014), has observed those qualities for more than a decade.
“She’s the most competitive player I’ve ever coached,” said Frese. “Her mistake response is a thing of beauty to watch.”
Throughout her youth basketball career, Thomas played AAU under her mom’s guidance as head coach. Fast forward to her professional basketball career, Thomas was finally selected at the age of 30 to represent the U.S. at the World Cup after never being selected to represent her country at the Olympics or in 5-on-5 World Cup competition. She is a 2012 3x3 World Cup champion for the USA.
Years of relentless determination combined with her pursuit of excellence put Thomas in the position to be an undeniable choice. During the 2022 WNBA season, Thomas became the first player in WNBA history to put up a triple-double in the Finals and was also the first ever to record four triple-doubles in the same season.
“She continued to put her head down and go to work,” said Frese. “She never complained about it. She never said, ‘Why not me?’”
By staying focused on herself and continuing to improve her game, talk of making the World Cup team faded into the background for Thomas. In fact, she was shocked when she found out she would be competing for the United States in Sydney.
“I was just working on my game, worried about myself, trying to get better overseas and in the WNBA,” said Thomas. “The opportunity presented itself and it opened up for me so it was a no-brainer. It was kind of a surprise. I had just really taken my name out of it.”
Thomas led all World Cup players with an average of 3.2 steals per game throughout the group phase, and was seventh in assists with an average of 4.8. During the United States’ 106-42 victory over Puerto Rico, she had six steals, one away from the USA record for most steals in a World Cup game. It appears that Thomas’ ability to translate her frustration into a strong performance, mixed with her desire to play in the World Cup, created the perfect storm for the undefeated United States team as it moves into the quarterfinals.
The USA (5-0), after finishing first in Group A, will meet Serbia (3-2) at 12:00 p.m. on Thursday Sydney time/10:00 p.m. on Wednesday ET.
“Every time she steps on the court, her goal is to wreak havoc defensively,” said Brionna Jones, a fellow Maryland alum and Sun and World Cup teammate. “I think for her, it's her mentality that every time she steps out on the court she’s coming out and giving it everything.”
Frese said she was amazed when Thomas scored 14 points with nine assists and seven rebounds in the USA's opening game against Belgium so soon after the Sun lost in the WNBA Finals:
“In my mind, you’re like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
Sarah Lounsbury is a contributor to USAB.com as part of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI.