Maybe Sophie Tsohonis should have been nervous last week.
Twice, she watched her son step on the court in front of packed crowds at Alaska Airlines Arena. In just one game, he played more minutes than he had the rest of the season combined.
Marcus Tsohonis wouldn’t have been on the floor at all two weeks ago. Because two weeks ago, he was still planning to redshirt. But then Washington point guard Quade Green was declared academically ineligible just hours before the Jan. 9 game against Stanford. Shortly after, UW announced that Tsohonis would dress for the first time since November.
He didn’t end up seeing the floor against the Cardinal, and he played just 6 minutes in the next game against Cal. But when the Huskies returned home, Tsohonis played a career-high 29 minutes against Oregon State. A game later, he set a new mark by playing 36 in the loss to Oregon.
So it would have been understandable, if Sophie was a little anxious to see how Tsohonis would perform after being pressed into action. But she wasn’t. She was perfectly calm.
Just like her son.
“I know the leader he is,” Sophie said. “He’s always been the same person. He’s always been very cool, calm and collected. … He’s always stepped up to any of his challenges.”
Tsohonis, a three-star guard out of Jefferson High School in Portland, Ore., averaged 12.5 points and 2.5 assists as UW split games against Oregon State and Oregon. Sophomore Jamal Bey started both games at point guard, but it was Tsohonis who primarily ran the offense.
“I’m always staying ready,” Tsohonis said. “That’s just one thing I always was taught. Nothing is given to you. I just came in. I’ve been working hard. I’m just getting the minutes, so now it’s on me.”
Head coach Mike Hopkins put it simply on Saturday: Tsohonis has solved the Green problem. In all likelihood, he’ll be the Huskies’ starting point guard when UW takes the floor against Utah on Thursday.
“The thing with Marcus is his control,” Hopkins said. “He’s got an old school pace to him. He’s always in control. At the beginning, with the way that they (Oregon) was pressuring, we had played Jamal there. I just felt like it was a lot to handle. We decided to play Marcus more at the one. He just settles everything down.”
Sophie will tell you that’s also true off the court. The two of them, along with his middle-school aged sister and maternal grandmother, are extremely close. Tsohonis calls Sophie his best friend, and she was the person he leaned on as he came to terms with redshirting and later navigated two whirlwind weeks that pushed him into a pivotal role.
But Tsohonis mostly took it all in stride. He’s always been the most even-keeled member of a family Sophie called a “fiery, Greek bunch.” He’s the calm one. The steady one. So when Hopkins described Tsohonis in similar terms, Sophie wasn’t surprised.
“That’s just who Marcus is,” she said. “He’s very chill, but he also just brings people together. I call him the glue because he really is. He brings people together and he doesn’t even realize it. There’s a piece to him that’s so magnetic that it’s hard not to love him and really jell when you’re around him.
“I saw that on the floor. I’ve seen it throughout the season and all of those opportunities. He did that in high school. He did that in AAU. He does that in his everyday life. He brings stability and calmness and collectedness to everything about him.”
And that’s exactly what UW needed after falling in back-to-back games to Stanford and Cal. The Huskies’ offensive was alternatively chaotic and anemic without Green, who was leading the team in assists and three-point field goal percentage. He made the offense run smoothly. In his absence, UW often looked confused.
Enter Tsohonis, and his quiet confidence. Against Oregon State, his first game playing meaningful minutes, he finished with 11 points and three assists. He was exceptional in the first half against Oregon, scoring 12 points and dishing out two assists. To Hopkins, he looked like a seasoned veteran.
“I’m very proud of him,” said fellow freshman Isaiah Stewart. “He hasn’t been playing the whole season and he steps right in at the point guard position. Seeing a freshman point guard like him playing against (Payton) Pritchard, who’s a four-year point guard, and he’s doing his thing. Hats off to him.”
‘I’m not a selfish kind of guy’
It hasn’t all gone smoothly for Tsohonis, who had two points and four turnovers against Oregon after halftime. Minutes after the loss, as he sat beside Stewart for his first postgame press conference, he attempted to shoulder the blame for the way the offense stalled in the second half. Stewart wouldn’t allow it, saying they were all at fault. But Tsohonis didn’t hesitate to take responsibility for the offense, now that he’s running it.
Afterward, in a quiet arena hallway, Tsohonis described what that will look like moving forward.
“Unselfish, giving my guys the ball,” Tsohonis said. “When the clock is down, I’m able to make plays. That’s one of the best things I can do is just being able to make plays.”
For most of the season, Tsohonis didn’t have that chance. He played well during the foreign tour in Italy, but appeared in just three non-conference games before Hopkins announced he would be redshirting.
Tsohonis, used to starring in high school, admitted the transition wasn’t always easy. But Sophie often reminded him “don’t take your ego over your reality.” Her words kept him focused as he waited for an opportunity — and it came sooner than he ever expected.
“It’s pretty hard,” Tsohonis said of sitting out, “but I’m not a selfish type of guy. If I was selfish, I would be hating on why I’m not playing and stuff. I kind of wait my role, work hard and play just be able to get a chance.”