The fast-paced, go-go-go style that makes Khyri Thomas so successful was starting to wear out Omaha Benson coach Donnie Johnson.
Not on the basketball court, because that enthusiasm and spirit have always served Thomas well there.
It was back in January, when the Bunnies senior was sidelined with a hairline fracture in his left foot. Johnson wanted his leading scorer concentrating on getting healthy and not popping up behind him at practice.
“He was doing his rehab stuff, but he would always try to come in here, and be like, 'What y'all doing today?' ” Johnson said. “He was getting mad at me for making him do the things that he knew he was supposed to do, but he's trying to get out here and he wants to get into practice and he wants to do everything.
“He didn't like me for a while. He hated the word 'no.' ”
Time off is tough for Thomas, who earned the nickname “Taz” years ago by reminding his mother, Lakisha, of the old Tasmanian Devil cartoon character. One he started crawling, she realized, he would never stop moving.
The nickname “just stuck with me,” Thomas said. “I'm not a slow type guy. I hate walking slow. I hate doing things slow. I'm more like a get-it-done-and-over-with guy.”
His energy can make Taz a devil to stop on the basketball court. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard is averaging 17.9 points, six rebounds and three steals a game, a solid follow-up to a junior season in which he was a second-team All-Nebraska selection. He's helped Benson take a 21-3 record and No. 2 ranking into Saturday's 1 p.m. district opener at home against Bellevue East.
Omaha Central coach Eric Behrens calls Thomas “extremely fast” with the ball in the open floor. Active in the passing lanes defensively. Always with an intensity about him.
“He's really good,” said Behrens, whose Eagles are 1-2 against Benson this season. “He plays hard. I think that's one of the things you see about him. And that, with his talent level, makes him pretty scary.”
The boundless energy makes Thomas scary at times for his own coach, especially during his recovery from the foot injury. He missed six games before returning Jan. 24.
Johnson knew patience and a full recovery were musts for such an important player on the team.
“Like I told him, we were going to take our time,” Johnson said. “I said, 'It's not a race. You've got to get better. Basketball is basketball, but we've got to get you healthy, more importantly, because you have a future.' ”
Thomas has mostly been Taz-like lately. His energy was on display Saturday night as he went from scoreless three minutes into the second quarter to throwing up 10 points in a 3:07 span, hitting Omaha Creighton Prep with two 3-pointers before a pair of dunks in transition.
He played all but 18 seconds in the 59-57 loss, coming off the floor only late in the first half after picking up his second foul with some overaggressive defense near midcourt.
“I've got to remember, 'Don't get too tired, don't get yourself in trouble, the team is going to need you later on,' ” Thomas said. “So I kind of slow down. Sometimes I go and we probably don't even need that, and maybe I turn it over.”
Johnson walks a fine line between reining in Thomas and letting him be himself. The coach knows his energetic senior has the ability to change games.
“Sometimes he's trying to make every play instead of letting things come to him,” Johnson said. “That's the thing you've got to lean on him with. Just slow him down.
“He's got work to do — he knows it — but the ceiling is so high when you continue to work.”
It's not clear yet where Thomas will land next season. He has a few NCAA Division I offers but is waiting to see what might happen with some bigger schools. He also could consider the junior-college route, which Johnson took in the 1990s before becoming a two-year starter at Creighton.
Johnson tells Thomas to keep his focus on the next few weeks, but admits he's intrigued by where Thomas can be in a few years.
“I definitely look forward to it,” Johnson said. “That's going to be something to see.”
But Thomas, for all his usual impatience, is in no hurry to see his final season of high school end. Not with the time and effort that this senior class has invested in the Benson program since the players came in with Johnson back in 2010. The Bunnies are chasing their third state tournament appearance in four years, and last March advanced to the Class A semifinals.
“That whole group, they're the foundation,” Johnson said. “It's funny, because they know what I want, so a lot of times you don't have to say anything. And they instill it into the younger players.”