While coaching the Philadelphia Eagles, Buddy Ryan infamously said of Cris Carter “all he does is catch touchdowns,” while explaining why the team cut the future Hall of Fame receiver.
Last month, Mike Hopkins echoed those sentiments, when asked why Marcus Tsohonis wasn’t starting for the Washington men’s basketball team.
“We had some new guys coming in and we were still shaking out the rotation and getting guys into place,” Hopkins said. “We kind of have a feel of Marcus from last year. We know he can score. He’s got a great knack for getting the ball into the basket, but we were trying to make all the pieces fit, and some nights, he was the odd man out.”
In hindsight, it’s a little ridiculous that Tsohonis didn’t figure more prominently into Washington’s plans at the start of the season.
Heading into Thursday’s 8 p.m. matchup against Stanford at Alaska Airlines Arena, Tsohonis has back-to-back games of 22 and 29 points, including a game-winning shot in the final seconds at Washington State on Monday.
“My phone was definitely blowing up,” Tsohonis said. “A lot of love from people that watched me play and people that I haven’t really heard from. It’s good that people are showing love and support.”
Tsohonis hadn’t always felt the love at Washington.
Last season, the three-star recruit from Portland was on track to redshirt before Quade Green became academically ineligible and Hopkins pushed Tsohonis into the starting lineup for nine of the last 10 games.
With Green’s return and the addition of transfers Erik Stevenson, Nate Pryor and Cole Bajema this season, Tsohonis’ future was thrown into doubt again.
He tallied just 6 points in the first five games and went scoreless three times. Hopkins kept Tsohonis on the bench in three games of UW’s first 11 games when the Huskies were averaging a league-low 63.7 points.
Even after scoring 24 points in a 91-75 loss against Stanford at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz, California, on Jan. 7, Tsohonis logged just 12 minutes in the next game and was benched on Jan. 14 when Washington played against USC.
Over the next eight games, Tsohonis scored at least 22 points off the bench in three games, including 27 during an 84-80 win over Colorado on Jan. 20.
It was the first time a UW player has tallied at least 20 points off the bench since C.J. Wilcox did it four times during the 2011-12 season.
“It’s just an ability that I have to be able to score points,” Tsohonis said. “Regardless of if it’s off the bench or starting, if it comes, it comes. Whatever I need to do, I just try to get wins.”
Seven weeks ago when Washington (4-16, 3-12 Pac-12) played Stanford (13-8, 9-6), Tsohonis ranked ninth among UW players while averaging 3.3 points.
This time, the 6-foot-3 sophomore is arguably the Huskies’ most potent offensive weapon and is second on the team with 10.9 points per game.
Tsohonis isn’t a big rebounder (1.9 per game). He averages just 1.1 assists and admittedly can improve as a defender.
However, Tsohonis is connecting on 50.8% of his field goals in Pac-12 games, which ranks first in the league for guards. And his 48.9% three-point shooting in conference play is sixth in the Pac-12.
“He makes open shots,” Hopkins said. “He’s really given us a big boost offensively. … He’s a confident player. He’s got a quirky game, but he knows how to put the ball in the basket. Especially, when you have guys like Quade and teams are loading up on him and making sure that he couldn’t score.
“With Marcus, now you have a secondary scorer, which makes you a lot more difficult to (defend). The problem is with these guys, you’re not great defensively. That’s your Catch-22. But Marcus is shooting the ball well.”
Growing up, Tsohonis idolized stars Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, but he patterned his game after Shaun Livingston, a lanky 6-7 journeyman who played 15 years with nine NBA teams.
“I liked his pace and how long he is,” Tsohonis said, “just how he doesn’t really get rushed.”
Tsohonis defined an unorthodox offensive game at Portland’s Thomas Jefferson High where he won a Class 6A state title as a sophomore and averaged 24.1 points, 7.4 assists and 6.2 rebounds as a senior.
As a freshman, Tsohonis learned his trademark shot — a running floater that he used to beat Washington State.
“I wasn’t the strongest coming into high school and playing varsity so I had to find a little hitch or whatever to get my shot up,” Tsohonis said. “I just try to get the ball up with either hand. I try to see the rim and drop it right in the middle. And it has to be soft. That floater is one that I’ll keep.”
During UW practices, Tsohonis connects on running floaters from the three-point line, which draws amazement from teammates.
Hopkins joked: “He would be unbelievable at the carnival. Shoot the ping pong ball into the goldfish’s mouth for a prize would be like a layup for him. He’s got incredible touch. That is a very hard shot and very few people can do it.
“It’s a God-given ability. Marcus just has a knack for getting the ball in the basket.”