Colorado Come Up
Chris Thomas is just getting started.
by Sean Brown
From Colorado to Maryland, Chris Thomas and his coach Greg Willis prepare him for greatness.
The majority of high school and AAU coaches don’t see potential in a player until they’re ranked on the national scene. Greg Willis saw the best in Thomas long before that.
The connection between Coach Willis and Thomas is certainly a family affair. Willis a longtime friend of Mark Dowdell and Latonia Smith, Chris’s grandparents, took on the role of coach and mentor when the young guard’s athleticism and potential seemed low.
“We use to call him slow-mo and that he couldn’t jump over a credit card.” Coach Willis says with a chuckle. Obviously things have changed quite a bit. Thomas is now the premier guard of the Class of 2013, combining supreme athleticism and great passing ability. Although his court vision is strong, his off the court sight was once blurry. A native of Northeast Denver, Colorado, Thomas felt the pressure of becoming a positive player with negative surroundings.
Coach Willis took notice of the negative influences and instead challenged him to become a better player with long hours in the gym with minimal distraction. Aside from a skill set that consistently grew under Willis’s watchful eye, it is the never back down attitude that made Thomas the player he is now. Willis recalls a younger Thomas in 7th grade who was pushed by a much older varsity player at the beginning of a game. Chris embarrassed the older player with an outstanding scoring effort. “I remember by the end of the game people in the stands were whispering, “I guess he pushed the wrong kid.” This same skill and perseverance has made Coach Willis’s Colorado Hawks the winningest AAU program in the state.
Although Colorado is home, at the age of 14 it became apparent that a change of scenery was necessary for the never-back-down point guard to stay on track. An executive decision was made among Chris’s family and Coach Willis to move him to Maryland to play at Princeton Day Academy. Distance has not put a strain on Coach Willis mentoring and influence on Chris. “Coach and I are really close. He always told me to keep my head on straight and don’t let anyone pull me down. Always be a leader.” Also providing guidance is Princeton Day Academy Head Coach, Van Whitefield. Coach Whitefield has been vital in the maturity process of Thomas in the classroom and maintaining a steady focus.
Thomas’s leadership and maturity isn’t the only thing growing, his game and list of college scholarship offers has increased as well. Interest has been shown from Xavier, Arizona and Colorado. That list is sure to get much bigger after Thomas rattled off 45 points in an IS8 playoff game in late October.
Even with end-to-end quickness and passing ability reminiscent of a young Derrick Rose, it’s his will to win and demeanor that may be even more impressive. Where some may view his on court presence as cocky, Thomas assures that “he’s just having fun and focused on getting wins.” Wins shouldn’t be a problem coming off a state title run his first year at Princeton Day Academy, now Thomas is prepared to take his game to the next level.
In the past, one thing Thomas admittedly hasn’t always been fully focused on, is defense. Coach Willis attributes his lapses in defense to his never back down from a challenge demeanor. “He always wants to guard the other team’s best player and when he does, he does a great job. If the opposing player isn’t very skilled though he relaxes a little a bit.” With a higher level of competition this year expect Thomas’s game to be at an all time high. His ability to get to the rim, shoot off the dribble and put his teammates in a position to score will make the 6-5 (and growing) guard the hottest commodity to come out of Denver since Chauncey Billups.
The growing success of Chris Thomas has certainly been a combination of pure skill, hard work and his Coach Greg Willis’s mentoring. Thomas will continue to run with Willis and the Colorado Hawks AAU program.
Keep your eyes ready for the next great guard, if you can catch him.