Rob Thomas rising
This highly sought-after junior swingman from NYC who’s prepping at South Kent (CT) is tearing it up on the court and making strides all around in his efforts toward playing at the next level and getting those diploma.
“I want to be a better man. I want to be smarter, and know what’s going on in the world today and around me.”
After finishing up a three-day weekend that includes back-to-back 30-point, 10-rebound games in front of over 100 college coaches and several pro scouts, it’s clear to see there’s more to South Kent prep junior forward Rob Thomas than the damage he does on the basketball court.
It’s impressive enough to hear words like those from a young player whose world, like most players, revolves almost entirely around basketball. But those words coming from Rob Thomas about his future is even more impressive considering what he’s gone through.
Those involved in his home of Brooklyn and throughout the rest of New York City know all about it.
Since he started playing at age six and after being cut from the Riverside Church team at 13, Thomas has developed into one of the best inside-outside threats in the country. At 6-6, 185 pounds, 30 is a regular night. He’s instant offense, whether its running with South Kent during the school year, with Team Roc back home in New York, battling at Rucker as one of the youngest in the league, or summer road travel with the Panthers.
Word travels quick when someone only a sophomore leaves the city and is putting up big numbers at prep tournaments and drawing looks from Division 1 programs that early. But so does word of academics, and luckily for Rob, things have turned around, and others back home who have been there before are still offering advice even though he has been in Connecticut during the past two school years.
“I have guys like Kareem Reid, Shammgod, and Alimoe telling me not to go the way they went,” he says. “That’s helped me out, them telling me how important it is to get a free education out of playing basketball, and to run with it because I have an opportunity.”
Now, Thomas is receiving attention at a national level. Raphael Chillious, his coach at South Kent, says he’s heard from “everybody,” but that Thomas is currently listing schools of interest like DePaul, Miami (FL), St. John’s, Cincinnati, Florida, Virginia Tech and Auburn, to name a few.
Thomas says his best game in his young career came during the 2004 IS8 spring season during a day when now Miami Heat rookie Dorell Wright happened to make the trip to Queens to play.
Unknowingly, Wright was watching the player who would soon follow him at South Kent, where the Cali-raised swingman also prepped at before declaring and eventually being drafted. Thomas went off for 46 points in a Team Roc uniform against the Panthers on a night when everything was clicking. The deep ball, and-1’s, the mid-range game – Thomas was just extra nice with it that day, and even though he and Wright only guarded each other maybe two minutes that day, there was a little more to it coming in.
“He caught me with an elbow at Coaches versus Cancer last year. That kind of motivated me,” Thomas said. “On the ride up though, Ese told me he needed 50 from me. So I was like, ‘Ok I’ll do it.’ Then when I walked in, and I saw Dorell, I just started smiling at him. He didn’t know we were playing each other, and neither did I.”
However, he might have since topped that as Chillious said the best he has seen Thomas play was in December against Worcester Academy in a tournament final. He had it all working that day as he dropped 42 again and around 10 or so rebounds in the championship win.
Chillious says that he has also seen plenty more of Thomas’ growth at South Kent than just what’s on the floor.
His situation is different in regard to his place in the class of 2006 in that he is older than most, an 18-year old junior right now.
However, that’s not holding him back at all, and it isn’t holding back college coaches from calling. Chillious said that is partly from his maturing as a person.
“I’ve been telling Rob that he has to start taking responsibility for everything he does and to start taking care of business. He can’t just say things, he has to do them, and he’s getting it now,” Chillious said.
Thomas has a long road ahead of him and a promising future, but it has been a long road to this point.
He started back home in NYC at Grover Cleveland. Then he went to Wadleigh, where unfortunate circumstances hit after what seemed so good during a 11-1 season that was rolling. The team had to forfeit its season and PSAL playoff spot because of ineligibility issues surrounding its players.
Thomas’ attendance was admittedly not so great during his time at both schools. He soon found himself hanging on the streets too much. It was around that time he says he got involved with the Positive Step Group, and things started to change.
His man Shawn Arnold of Team Roc stepped in and helped set him up at St. Thomas More in Connecticut for the 2003-04 school year. It took one more transfer though to South Kent to get Thomas to a place where he says he is comfortable and looks forward to finishing up his last two years of school.
Rankings come with getting exposure in hopes of getting a scholarship, but they aren’t everything. Despite being in the top 50 in most all the major recruiting services’ class of ’06 ratings, they’re something that Thomas says he doesn’t pay attention to.
“I just play every game hard, like it’s my last,” he says. “You never know what will happen so I leave it all on the court.”
One of the more popular words you hear about Thomas is ‘underrated,’ though. And that couldn’t be summed up any better by something that happened at ABCD Camp this past summer.
Thomas was doing work all week during games where he was teamed up with his Panthers’ teammate and North Carolina committed Danny Green, who finished with the highest player rating by week’s end.
He was an obvious choice for the Underclassmen All-Star game, and between the time he took the floor to come in after the first whistle of the game until ending up with 17 points, the result was no different than any other game.
Buckets, and some, like game MVP - the one nobody knew about it.
There were co-MVPs in the senior game for each team, yet in the underclassmen, only three were thought to have been named.
“They had Daequan Cook from my team out there, and O.J. Mayo and Billy Walker from the other team. All of them are from Ohio so I knew they wanted to bring them out like that, but I just don’t know what happened,” he said somewhat disappointed, but past it.
STAYING ON THE PATH
This summer could be a bit of a change for Thomas, though. He mentioned that instead of playing the summer circuit, he might be spending the three-month break at South Kent to make up for lost time in the classroom. Chillious said whether its at SK or if they set him up somewhere, he’ll definitely be taking classes in order to continue his focus on the books.
Which would mean he’s away from his guys at Team Roc, but not always does somebody have to be there in the flesh to have an impact.
Like his story has back home, word travels, and while he’s away handling his, Thomas can still be a positive influence that he says he has tried to be when he’s around the younger kids in the Team Roc program.
“I try and be a role model for the kids. They’re supposed to go AAU next year too, so that’s good, they’re up and coming,” he says.
And it seems as if Thomas is as well.
“There’s nothing wrong with taking my time. I have patience. I just want to be able to smile when I get that high school diploma and college diploma.”
Patrick Stevens covers high school basketball for InsideHoops.com