Much of the talk during the first week of Bulls training camp has forward Tyrus Thomas starring in his own above-the-floor show during practice.
When asked for his own impressions Tuesday, Thomas promptly sat down and listed three stages of personal development.
"You come in your first year, you don't really know what's up," he said. "Second year, you kind of think you know. But now I feel like I really know what I need do to become the player I'm capable of becoming in this league.
"I feel like all around I've made tremendous strides - facing up, back to the basket, off the dribble, defense. So it's going to be exciting to see Thursday when I get to play against some different competition."
The Bulls have taken some lumps for choosing Thomas in the 2006 draft instead of LaMarcus Aldridge or Brandon Roy. But there still is plenty of time for the pick to pay off. Thomas was a late-bloomer in high school, played just one season at LSU, and turned 22 in August.
After flashing some tantalizing potential during his rookie season, Thomas improved his numbers slightly last year (6.8 points, 4.6 rebounds).
But no one associated with the Bulls came away happy with the team's 33-49 performance. Late in the season, Thomas let his frustration show with an unexcused absence from practice and subsequent suspension.
"My biggest thing this year, I came into camp in the best shape I've ever been in," Thomas said. "That was one. Mentally, I was prepared for the season. Just trying to train myself to tune different things out, whether it be negativity from outside sources, inside sources - whatever it may be that gets me frustrated or upset - learning to tune those things out. Then just working on my game."
At the suggestion of teammate Luol Deng, Thomas spent about three weeks this summer working out at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
"We just wanted to go somewhere we're away from everything," Deng said. "IMG was kind of the perfect place. It's very relaxing. There's nothing to do down there. You get a condo and you work out twice a day. They have meals for you; they have the weight room there."
Thomas felt the instructors at IMG not only helped with his basketball skills but also taught him about having the right attitude, being more outgoing and how to better handle things like media obligations.
During Tuesday's interview, Thomas seemed more at ease than he was in his first two seasons.
"(Trainer) David Thorpe and the rest of those guys did a real good job preparing me to be more professional," Thomas said. "Not to say I was unprofessional, but just to maximize my professionalism. They helped me become a better person."
Thomas was in the starting lineup when last season began and had a couple of big games early. Then he seemed to become a scapegoat for the Bulls' miserable start. Thomas played less than 10 minutes in eight of 12 games between Dec. 3 and Jan. 3, and sat out five others completely.
Maybe he wasn't quite ready to help the team last season. But the Bulls didn't add any big men during the summer, so consistent playing time is clearly available if Thomas can take advantage.
"He's been very good and very solid in camp, one of our better players," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "He has a lot of improvement to do. But he's willing to learn, and he's been listening and working hard."
Thomas always has been popular among teammates but was often misunderstood by outsiders who couldn't get him to open up. The Louisiana native believes he has everything in order this season, including the addition of 10-15 pounds of muscle.
"I love basketball and I'd do it for free," he said. "But this is my job, so you've got to approach it like that."