MATER DEI'S MR. CLUTCH : The Spotlight Is on Thomas in 5-A Final Against Serra

Times Staff Writer

Stu Thomas, it's show time.

It's that time to score 20 points, shoot 60% from the field, grab some offensive rebounds, walk off with the Most Valuable Player trophy and get some college scouts wondering if maybe they overlooked you.

In short, the CIF Southern Section 5-A title is on the line tonight, and it's time to prove to the prep basketball world that you're a big-game player.

Forget that you struggled to get eight points in Mater Dei High School's semifinal win over St. Bernard. Or that you had six shots blocked by Lynwood in the Valencia tournament the night the Stanford coach who recruited you came to watch you play.

Mater Dei (28-0) is playing in its fourth straight large-school title game at 8:45 tonight against Serra (23-4) in the Sports Arena. The spotlight will be on Thomas.

Thomas, a 6-foot 9-inch forward, usually excels in title games. The trend began in the 5-A championship last year in the Long Beach Arena when Thomas scored 17 points and had 12 rebounds in the Monarchs' 69-58 win over Ocean View before 11,467.

It was then that college scouts first began to notice Thomas, even though they had been following the Monarchs all season in hopes of signing All-America Tom Lewis.

In December, Thomas was named the MVP of the Tournament of Champions after scoring 28 points in a 53-52 win over Santa Monica in the title game. He was 10 of 16 from the field and made all eight of his free-throw attempts.

He continued his fine play in the championship game of the Orange tournament at Chapman College's Hutton Sports Center with a 20-point effort against Capistrano Valley in a 67-54 win.

"I seem to get up for the big games," Thomas said. "People started noticing me last year in the title game. Ocean View was sagging on Tom (Lewis), and I made a couple of quick baskets and got some offensive boards.

"That game was a big confidence booster. I had always played behind Tom and Mike (Mitchell). This year, I've gone from the supporting cast to one of the leaders."

Thomas averaged 19.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and shot 55% from the field in his new role as the Monarchs' star player this season. Mater Dei has barely missed Lewis and Mitchell in extending its two-season winning streak to 57 games.

"We went through a transition period this summer because everyone was learning a new role," Thomas said. "We went to Phoenix, and everything seemed to come together.

"When LeRon (Ellis, a 6-10 center) came here, I knew we would go undefeated. LeRon took a lot of pressure off me, especially on the boards."

Thomas is usually stationed in the low-post position in the Monarchs' offense, which means he generally attracts a crowd of defenders. It's common to see him double- and triple-teamed.

"Everybody sags on me," Thomas said. "I had three guys on me in the St. Bernard game. It's going to be nice moving back to a wing position in college. I'm going to work on my quickness and ballhandling a lot this summer before I go to Stanford."

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