Next in Line
Following in the footsteps of his uncle and sister, Shaquille Thomas aims to be the family’s next star.
by Franklyn Calle / @FrankieC7
There’s a lot to be said about Shaquille Thomas. The 6-7 forward has been just as impressive in overcoming obstacles off the court as his performance on the court. Nephew of NBA veteran Tim Thomas and younger brother of the WNBA’s New York Liberty Essence Carson, basketball runs in Shaquille’s blood. But for the Montclair (NJ) native, it’s been a long and bumpy roller-coaster ride to Cincinnati. At the age of two, he lost his father. Nine years later, he would have to deal with the passing of his mother. Tim’s mother — Shaq’s grandmother – welcomed him into her home and helped raise him. Throughout the years, Thomas grew up struggling to find a consistent male figure in his life. But with the presence of basketball in the lives of his siblings, he would soon find comfort, poise and solidity in his future through the game.
Although embodied with lots of talent and athleticism, Thomas’ high school years would also not come so easy. He enrolled at Patterson Catholic HS as a freshman — the same school where his uncle once starred back in the 90′s. Unfortunately for Thomas, PC had a handful of Division I prospects and he would have to sit in the bench behind and in the shadows of his upperclassmen teammates for the first couple of years.
In the fall of his junior year, Thomas gave coach Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse program a verbal commitment. However, not even a full month into his pledge, he decided to reopen his recruitment. Soon after, uncle Tim, the 7th pick of the 1997 NBA Draft, decided to pull Thomas out of PC and instead settled at neighboring school Montclair HS. Due to new a transferring rule by the NJSIAA (New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association), Thomas was declared ineligible to play. The new rule stated that a student-athlete must transfer by September 1st of his sophomore year or must sit a whole year. A couple of months later, Thomas once again began the process of searching for a new school –this time looking to take his talents to a prep school. Opting to not let his junior year go to waste, he decided to transfer to Mountain State Academy in West Virginia, after looking into St. Benedict’s, Oak Hill Academy and Arlington Country Day, among others.
Despite holding his own on the hardwood, Shaq felt the effects of homesickness, living and feeling alone, and hunger pains from being so far away from his family. Nonetheless, he managed to finish off the academic year in good standing. Once back home in Jersey for the summer, Thomas and his family decided that he would be attending NIA Prep for his senior year — his 4th school in the last three years.
Right at the start of the school year, the lanky wing put an end to his recruiting process when he committed to coach Mick Cronin and the Cincinnati Bearcats. At NIA Prep, Shaq put the exclamation points to an audacious four years. He went on to average 23 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists, while leading his team to huge wins against some of the nation’s top prep teams. When it was all said and done, Thomas was named New Jersey’s Prep Player of the Year. He also earned a trip to the National HS Slam Dunk Championship in Houston (TX) during the NCAA’s Final Four weekend.
And now as he prepares for his freshman campaign, SLAMonline caught up with future Big East forward to discuss his high school years, off-court obstacles, and his expectations for Cincy, among many other things.
SLAM: Why did you choose Cincinnati?
Shaquille Thomas: On my visit, I really liked the campus. It was nice. And also the coaching staff. It was just a great fit for me and my family. It wasn’t too far away from home and it’s in the Big East Conference so it’s convenient and I thought it was a great fit.
SLAM: You committed to Syracuse at first but then decided to open up your recruitment once again. What ultimately made you want to look at other schools?
ST: Because I thought it was kinda’ early since it was at the beginning of my junior year. Syracuse was like the first Big East basically to offer me so I just took it. I didn’t think at the time that I should open up and weigh my other options.
SLAM: You’ve been to four different schools throughout your high school career. How was the challenge of having to change and adapt to them time and time again?
ST: It was pretty hard because I kept going to different environments and you don’t know the teachers and all that other stuff. I ended up adjusting and it worked out in the long run. It made me stronger as a person.
SLAM: At Mount State Academy in Virginia, you were out there by yourself. How was that experience like?
ST: It was pretty hard at times because it’s just a different environment down there. I was like the only New York/New Jersey kid out there. There were a lot of foreign players from like France and Europe. A lot of them didn’t really speak English. It was really hard to adjust but I just finished it out. It was pretty hard.
SLAM: You come from a basketball family, with NBA veteran Tim Thomas being your uncle and New York Liberty’s Essence Carson your sister. How does it feel to have family members who have made it all the way to the pros?
ST: It feels really good. It makes me want to work harder because I want to get to where they are. It definitely makes me want to work harder everyday and work out and stuff.
SLAM: Do you play ball with Tim or your sister?
ST: Yeah, I do from time to time when they are in town. I usually beat my sister but Tim – he usually used to beat me but I can beat him now.
SLAM: Do you find trying to separate yourself from just being known as Tim’s nephew or Essence’s brother, and instead making yourself known as Shaquille Thomas?
ST: I think I kind of have separated myself during my junior year. Like now, people would mention that I’m Tim Thomas’ nephew but a lot of people now know me as Shaquille Thomas.
SLAM: With your mom and dad passing away at such a young age in your life, how have you been able to overcome those obstacles?
ST: It was pretty hard because I was young. I was like 12 or 11 when my mom passed away, and I was really young, like four or five, when my dad passed away. My grandmother raised me. My sister wasn’t around because she was in school and my uncle was playing in the NBA, so I never really had like a father figure. I had to learn a lot of stuff on my own. I had to grow up real fast. I think it really helped me in the long-run because I learned a lot about life.