November 23, 2009 12:06:00 PM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- It was fitting Mississippi State''s all-time leading scorer was on hand Sunday to watch one of the best scoring performances in school history.
LaToya Thomas, the school''s all-time leading scorer (2,981 points) and its only four-time Kodak All-American, had a front row seat for Alexis Rack''s 43-point effort that sparked No. 25 MSU''s 84-55 victory against Maryland.
"I haven''t been back since (former All-American) Tan''s (White) senior year," Thomas said. "I have been talking a little bit with coach (Sharon) Fanning-Otis and I thought this would be a great game to come to. I wanted to surprise the girls and give them a little bit of inspiration."
Thomas, who is from Greenville, has been living in Atlanta, Ga., for the past five years. She said she recently learned she will return to Zaragoza, Spain, to resume her professional basketball career. She said she plans to leave in the next two weeks.
"I have been playing in Spain for the past three or four years, so I am kind of used to the Spanish environment," Thomas said. "I am trying to learn a little Spanish, and there is a lot of talent in Spain."
Thomas said some of the centers in the Spanish league are too big for her. She said she plays more power forward in Spain, but she has added 3-point range to her scoring arsenal.
"I am happy," said Thomas, 28, who works with kids as an instructor, volunteer coach, and official. "I have been playing for seven straight years and this is the first time I have got rest, other than the two weeks off in between the WNBA and going overseas."
Thomas, who also has played in Russia, France, Korea, and Israel, played last season in the WNBA with the Minnesota Lynx. She said she isn''t sure if she will return to play in the WNBA, but that she plans to keep playing for another seven or eight years before possibly moving into coaching.
MSU women''s basketball coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said she spoke to Thomas earlier in the week and was excited to hear she would be back in town. She said she was especially pleased Thomas was able to see the program''s new locker room in Humphrey Coliseum. The right wall when you walk into the locker room has a mural that includes images of Thomas and White, the program''s top two all-time leading scorers.
Fanning-Otis said she and the Lady Bulldogs will help Thomas in any future endeavor after she is finished playing.
"She surely knows how to get it done, and I think she will be able to share that with a lot of players," Fanning-Otis said.
Rack said she didn''t speak to Thomas before the game to receive any special motivation. Still, she said the presence of the school''s all-time leading scorer helped make the day even more special.
"We are just focused on trying to get to the 40 minutes," Rack said. "Tonight, I still feel we got 35, but we''re still trying to get to the 40."
Thomas also holds the school''s single-game scoring mark (48 points, set Nov. 21, 2000, against Memphis)
Rack made a late run at that mark with back-to-back 3-pointers to end a 4-minute, 49-second scoreless streak for the Lady Bulldogs in the second half. She then dished out assists on consecutive possessions before scooping a layup under Yemi Oyefuwa and converting the conventional three-point play. She punctuated her final basket of the game with a pump first.
Rack capped her afternoon with two free throws with 2:50 to play. She left the game with 1:44 remaining. By then, Thomas and the rest of the crowd of 3,042 knew the game was well in hand.
Thomas said she enjoyed the return to Starkville and wished the Lady Bulldogs (4-0) all of the best in their quest to have a record-breaking season.
"I am enjoying my rest and getting a chance to come back and see my girls," Thomas said.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.