With the first live period of July officially underway, one player who won’t be playing with the pressure of securing a big-time Division I commitment is Onalaska, WI’s Matthew Thomas.
“I just want to come out and play,” Thomas said. “It’s my last few tournaments ever in AAU and I’ve been playing with some of these guys since sixth grade. So, I just want to enjoy it and have fun. Now that I’ve already made my college decision, I can come out here and kind of relax and play ball.”
His 27-point performance Wednesday night guided his Wisconsin Playmakers past Indiana powerhouse SYF, 66-56. It was one of the standout performances at the NY2LA Sports Next Level Invitational, and the Iowa State-bound guard made it look easy.
The 6-5 assassin broke out on the national scene last July and had offers from Boston College, Virginia, Wisconsin and Northern Iowa before committing to Fred Hoiberg and the Cyclones in June. Following an impressive April in front of college coaches and the national scouting service gurus, Thomas began to get attention as one of the best shooters in the country.
Thomas is currently ranked No. 78 in the Class of 2013 by Scout, No. 84 by ESPN and No. 104 by Rivals. But as he gets more exposure this July in front of those services, those rankings should continue to rise.
“People talk about [the national notoriety], and they think it’s a big deal,” Thomas said. “It’s an honor that people think I’m that caliber of a player, but obviously I’m not satisfied. I just want to be the best I can be.”
Thomas proved himself as one of the best shooters in the country last summer on the club circuit, but his drive to make himself a more complete player paid major dividends to his high school squad (Onalaska) in the winter as he earned first team all-state honors by averaging 21.3 points per game.
He also led Onalaska to a 27-1 record and a Division II state championship. His performance during the first half of the state title game was stuff legends are made from. He had a game-high 30 points, and essentially put the nail in the coffin on Kaukauna with a right-to-left cross and a trey as time expired in the second quarter. Personally, he outscored the opposition 21-16 in the first two quarters.
As he naturally grew in height and strength, he also tightened up his handle to make himself more versatile with the ball in his hands. While he was never strictly a catch-and-shoot prospect, his ability to score off the bounce has improved dramatically thanks to a quick and nasty right-to-left, and left-to-right, crossover.
“I have a lot of work to do still,” Thomas said. “But I definitely work on my ball-handling so I can create shots for myself, and creating separation getting into the guy and popping back so I can get enough room to get my shot off.
“I watch a lot of NBA and Kobe is my favorite player. But I mean he’s more of a post up player, and I do a little of that,” he explained. “But I look at how he gets into guys and is able to shoot over them.”
Thomas is a capable distributor and makes defense pay with doubles and traps, and did so Wednesday while also scoring in a variety of different ways.
The NY2LA Sports Next Level Invitational runs through Sunday, and it won’t be a surprise if opposing defenses do their best to not give him an inch. But that is nothing new for him.
“It’s fun when you get every team’s best shot, every coach’s best shot,” Thomas said. “They’re going to throw a bunch of crap defenses at you, but you just have to be ready for it and play your game.”
If he continues to play his game and work at the rate he’s worked at, it will continue to be unfortunate for the opposition.