This isn’t about Texas Southern guard Chris Thomas’ off court issues. His path from high school to college has been a rocky one, and it has involved a lot of different stops. Instead, this is about how Thomas was once very close to being an Arizona Wildcat, and the take-nothing-for-granted nature of high level college basketball recruiting.
An ultra quick and athletic 6-5 guard, Thomas became one of the top class of 2013 prospects when he exploded onto the AAU basketball scene. With an electric style of play and great physical tools, Thomas was already on NBA radars.
He was also on Arizona’s radar as a high school sophomore, way back in 2011. His play earned him top 10 ranking by most services, and Thomas was turning heads with his on court skills:
Any recruiting analyst worth their weight in salt knew that Arizona was the team to beat for Thomas. As a west coast recruit, he was identified early and the Wildcat coaching staff certainly gave him the same kind of attention they give their top targets. It appeared as if the stage were clearly set for Thomas to headline in Tucson for a year or two before making the jump to the NBA.
Then everything fell apart.
What was a meteoric rise ended with a precipitous fall when Thomas couldn’t stick at any prep schools and his academics became more of a mountain than a hurdle.
But again, this isn’t about Thomas’ struggles. It’s a cautionary tale about the nature of recruiting, and the illusion of stability that drapes itself over the way we talk about these young players.
Every year there are top recruits that are pegged as the next big thing, and every year some of those guys fall completely off the map. We talk about young talent like there’s some sort of certainty about their future, like we know how years of physical and mental development will change the paths they are on.
The truth is, it’s all a big crapshoot. No one knows how these 16 to 18 year old kids are going to adjust to the challenges of growing up, especially in the context of high level basketball talent. For every Jabari Parker, there’s at least one Lenny Cooke.
So the next time you’re perusing the recruiting rankings, contemplating how gobbling up top ranked recruits could result in future championships, just remember to take the number by a player’s name with a grain of salt. A player’s high school ranking has no effect on what they will bring to a program.
Just ask Thomas and Arizona, who will play on the same court in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday. If you took a time machine back to the AAU circuit circa 2011 and told them that, they’d probably figure Thomas was leading the Wildcats back to national prominence in March Madness. But obviously things turned out very differently, for both parties.
It’s a little serendipitous that Thomas’ long and winding road through the basketball world would eventually lead back to Arizona, the program that he was poised to take over on the upswing of a promising career.
All we can say is that’s how it goes. The recruiting machine chews kids up and spits them out all the time, more often than we hear about. It’s a harsh reality, one that will have come full circle when the Wildcats tip off against Texas Southern in the Round of 64 tomorrow.