THE WRITING seemed to be on the wall, but Quentin Thomas had a different read on his future with the North Carolina basketball team.

It would have been understandable for the junior point guard from Oakland to have concerns about his place with the Tar Heels. He played behind freshman Bobby Frasor all last season, and now coach Roy Williams has brought in Ty Lawson, perhaps the nation's top point guard prospect.

Even Williams anticipated what Thomas might be thinking last spring. "People are talking about, 'Why don't you transfer,' aren't they?'" he asked Thomas.

Williams told Thomas he didn't want him to transfer, and urged him to make his own decision — not to allow others to push him into a corner.

Thomas said he never wanted out.

"For one, I just feel blessed to come here and win a national championship my freshman year," he said of his experience on the 2004-05 Tar Heels squad. "I don't see why I would run away from that. Coach Williams is great. I love my teammates.

"I never considered leaving North Carolina. That's the problem with a lot of players. If things don't go their way at first, they bail out. I've never been one of those players."

Leon Powe's former teammate at Oakland Tech High, Thomas is taking the long view of his career at UNC. He values his academic experience, anticipates the Tar Heels making a run at another national championship and, most of all, believes he has a valuable role on the team.

"Just being the outstretched hand of the coach, the leader on the floor," Thomas said, explaining that role. "Just doing whatever I can to keep my team in the right position for winning games."

With Thomas trying to recover from a stress fracture to his foot early last season, Frasor won the starting job and kept it all 31 games. Enter Lawson, who is so highly regarded there is talk of moving Frasor off the ball at times this season. Either way, there's a logjam in the backcourt.

"I welcome it to make our team better," Thomas said. "I never look at anything as an individual thing. Things are always going to be competitive. When it's game time, all three of us have on the same color uniform."

That's not to suggest Thomas would be satisfied as the third wheel at point guard. He wants to play, and Williams said he's in the mix.

"Quentin's doing well. He's having the best preseason he's had since he's been here," said Williams, noting that Thomas has recovered from a summer thumb injury and is battling through an ankle sprain. "He's a little bit stronger. He's pushing the ball better, defending better. We're encouraged."

It was just last Jan.10, when he committed seven turnovers in nine minutes in a game at Virginia Tech, that Thomas faced a potential make-or-break crossroads in his career.

Williams took him aside and told him all players have bad games, but the good ones bounce back. "I'm not losing my confidence in you. I keep putting you out there," Williams said. "Why don't you stop getting down on yourself."

Over the next 10 games, spanning 116 minutes on the floor, Thomas turned the ball over just seven more times.

"I saw a little bit of difference the last third of the season," Williams said. "I thought he was more confident, more comfortable. I think it was his own process of relaxing."

Through his maturation, Thomas has become a respected team leader, Williams said.

"I get so much respect from my teammates, not even as a basketball player but for the type of person I am," Thomas said. "There's so many people on this team that will lift you up, keep you smiling. That's a big part of why I enjoy it out here."

1,000 FOR KNIGHT: Now that Texas Tech coach Bob Knight has signed a contract extension through the 2011-12 season, how many victories can he rack up?

Knight enters this season with 869 wins, just 10 shy of tying former North Carolina coach Dean Smith's all-time record.

But with six more years on the payroll — athletic director Gerald Myers believes his 65-year-old coach will fulfill the length of the contract — the target becomes 1,000 victories. 

Knight would have to average 21.83 wins over that span to get there, which seems possible. In 40 years at Army, Indiana and Tech, he has averaged 21.73 wins. His Red Raiders' teams have averaged 21 wins over five seasons.

Tech was 15-17 last year, just Knight's second losing season. He doesn't seem discouraged by it. "I may coach another 10 years," he said.

WCC PICKS: Big surprise, coaches in the West Coast Conference chose six-time league champ Gonzaga to repeat in 2006-07. The Bulldogs grabbed six of the eight first-place votes.

Loyola Marymount picked up one first-place vote and was second, just edging USF. Saint Mary's was fourth, but one coach picked the Gaels first. Santa Clara was sixth in the pre-season poll.