SAN DIEGO (WIS) - Clemson has moved on to face Auburn in the second round of NCAA Tournament after defeating New Mexico State, 79-68.
The performance of key player Elijah Thomas hasn't gone unnoticed, but his inspiration has flown under the radar in the form of his one-year-old child, Ashton.
"I'm always around him," Thomas said. "He likes basketball. Kind of like my "mini-me." I love it. I love it a lot. I spoil him. He loves shoes. Every time I get him a pair of shoes, he goes crazy. It's fun, because I get to watch him grow up."
Thomas' mentor gets constant updates about Ashton.
"He lights up once every two weeks he's going to bring me a photo of his son doing something different," Clemson's coach Brad Brownell said. "He's upset with me that I haven't offered him a scholarship. I said, I'm not sure I would have offered you one knowing everything that I know right now."
Brownell knew Thomas had some growing to do when Thomas transferred from Texas A&M to play for the Tigers in 2016.
"Coach B put his hands to me," Thomas said. "And told me he wanted me to be a better person."
That growth, that maturity doesn't always come with age and, for 21-year-old Elijah, it came when he says he received Ashton as a blessing.
"[God] doesn't make mistakes," Thomas said. "I'm a firm believer in my religion. I just always pray he gives me guidance through my process. Makes you think positive all the time. Makes you always worry about someone else's safety. I think when your mind is so focused on that, it forces you to grow up and mature into an adult."
Brownell believes that fatherhood has done wonders for Thomas.
"I think it's been a good thing for him," Brownell said. "He's motivated to be a good father. He wants to do right by his son."