If the Big 12 Conference awarded a most improved player for men’s basketball, there’s a good chance Thomas Dziagwa would be one of the finalists or arguably the recipient.

Dziagwa is about to cap his junior season at Oklahoma State, and he will likely more than double his production as far as points, rebounds and assists per game from his sophomore campaign.

The Temple Terrace, Florida, native has gone from a sparingly used bench player to a starter and captain on the Cowboys’ roster. His minutes have more tripled this year.

“I kind of just stuck to the script and kept on chopping wood,” Dziagwa said. “I know in today’s society it’s like a microwave – you want instant success – but things don’t come like that. I understand that I would have to do my due diligence and my time would come, and it has. My first years, I would do whatever is asked of me. This year, I was asked to score a little more, so that’s what I’m doing.”

Dziagwa averaged 10.1 minutes per game as a sophomore, which was an increase from 6.8 minutes as a freshman. This year, he’s playing 31.6 minutes per game. That ranks third behind fellow juniors and captains Cameron McGriff (34 minutes) and Lindy Waters (33.5).

One reason for Dziagwa’s increased minutes is the lack of scholarship players on the team. Since mid-January, following one player leaving the team and three more being dismissed, it’s left the Cowboys with seven scholarship players.

Before January, Dziagwa played 30 or more minutes just three times this season. Since Jan. 2, he’s played less than 30 minutes just once and that was on Jan. 19 in a road loss at Iowa State.

During that same stretch, he’s scored in single digits seven times in those 17 games, but has racked up 15 or more points six times.

During the past five games, Dziagwa has scored 20-plus points three times and 15 points in Saturday’s loss to Kansas. He put up a career-high 23 points in back-to-back games at Texas and at home to TCU. It was the first time he scored at least 20 points in his career.

“It’s probably a combination of everything,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said of Dziagwa’s recent success. “First, he’s more physically capable. He’s done a great job of conditioning his body, because the last two years he’s really tailed off as the season went along as far as his physical conditioning. What he did over last summer in terms of his diet and the work he did in the gym gave him confidence he can sustain success throughout the season.

“And, he’s had more opportunity. He didn’t play that much at the end of the last two years. He’s another guy, kind of like Lindy, we need to be aggressive. There’s only so many guys who can score for us at this point, so we need them all to give us as much as they can every game.”

Another big reason for Dziagwa’s success this season dates back to the beginning of last summer. He altered his diet to eat healthier and become more fit.

Dziagwa also accepted Boynton’s challenge to make – not just attempt – 25,000 shots during the summer. He accomplished it before the Cowboys left for a 10-day Europe trip in early August.

That extra work has benefitted Dziagwa, and Boynton knows it. He said he will use it as an example to other players in the program.

“I remember talking to my staff in September or October when we still had a lot of pieces and were trying to figure out the parts, and I remember telling them I need Thomas to have a good season,” Boynton said. “It helps me continue to talk to the younger guys about yes it does work – old-fashioned hard work still works. There is no magic pill. It’s not the coaches’ fault. Just get in the gym and put your time in and things work out. His example this year will be something we’ll use for many years to come.”

Heading into Wednesday’s game at Baylor, Dziagwa ranks third on the team in points per game. McGriff leads the squad with 12.6 points per game, with Waters and Dziagwa close behind at 11.9 and 11.6 points, respectively.

He admitted he’s happy to be a bigger contributor this season, but he also said he hasn’t helped enough, if you look at the team’s 10-19 record.

“It’s rewarding for all of the work and all of the hours you put in the gym to come to fruition,” Dziagwa said. “I’m more concerned on how well our team is playing, and right now we haven’t been putting ‘W’s in the column. We’ve played well but haven’t put ‘W’s in the column. It’s bittersweet – I’m playing well, but I’m obviously not playing well enough for us to win.”

Dziagwa and the Cowboys are coming off a five-point loss to No. 15 Kansas and a four-point overtime loss to No. 11 Texas Tech. Once they return home from Baylor, they host West Virginia at 3 p.m. Saturday for the regular season finale.

They will begin the Big 12 Tournament on March 13 against likely Oklahoma or TCU. The Cowboys need to win the conference tournament to extend their season, but for now they’re focused on the next task at hand – beating a Baylor squad that won by four in Stillwater.

“We haven’t discussed much on the Big 12 Tournament, but I know the older guys know that the Big 12 Tournament is 0-0, and it’s a new season,” Dziagwa said. “But with this team, we’re just focused on today’s practice, traveling safe to Waco and taking care of business down there at Baylor.”

Sports reporter Area high school athletics