Never mind Tuesday’s resounding victory.
Liberty Boys basketball coach Kevin Soares determined the following Wednesday in early February that his players would benefit from additional post-practice conditioning. So he held up the runner-up plaque the school had reluctantly claimed after losing to Bishop Gorman in the annual Tarkanian Classic and raised it to the head as the Patriots sprinted from sideline to line. sidelines – as if to ask, “Are you happy with second? ”
Dedan Thomas Jr. was not, is not, and never will be.
The sophomore was so distraught after that December loss that he didn’t leave the visitors’ locker room until the crowd was gone, determined to feel every moment of the sting that came with the first loss of his academic career. With the sting that filled his lungs and stomach during that particular set of sprints in the middle of the maximum effort that allowed him to finish first or second.
“Every practice, every day at school, if anyone talks about it – that’s really all we’re working on right now. Beating Gorman,” Thomas said, beads of sweat still spilling from his brow. “Since I watch basketball here, it’s the only team that wins. I just want to beat them.”
At 16, Thomas is a shrewd and relentless competitor, touted as a good-natured, 6-foot left-handed point guard with a penchant for passing and a serene sense of confidence that helped key to the most successful season in club history. program. The Patriots will enter the Class 5A State Tournament for the first time this week, giving their star player the opportunity to avenge the loss and showcase his position as one of the best on the biggest stage in the state. west coast players.
Recruiting services such as Rivals and 247 Sports consider Thomas one of the top 60 players for the Class of 2024, and the UNLV coaching staff is prioritizing his recruitment. Much like Jerry Tarkanian prioritized that of his father, Dedan Sr., who played the point during Tarkanian’s final season with the Rebels.
“I would love to see him play for UNLV, but I would also love to see him chart his own path and do what makes him happy,” the elder Thomas said. “His main goal right now is to win a state title. … The heart of him is competition – and basketball.
Born in basketball
He goes by DJ and knows exactly who he is, having heard the stories, watched the game’s tape, and studied the sheet music his dad was filling out. As the eldest of four children of Dedan Sr. and Tina, his childhood was a crash course in basketball history and strategy – taught mostly by a selfless man who dribbled, drove, passed and probed his way. to an average of 7.9 assists in his last 57 games at UNLV.
Not that he would have it any other way.
“Everyone was just telling me all these good things about him. I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever, it’s okay,'” said young Thomas, who was in fifth grade when he realized how good his dad was at basketball. “I was hearing all these things about him, but I couldn’t believe he was my dad.”
Thomas was a week old when he attended his first practice at the Tarkanian Basketball Academy, parked in a crib on the sidelines while his father coached eldest son Keenan’s team. He was 5 years old when his father founded West Coast Basketball, the club’s program with which he developed the steel he has today.
Top local players such as Troy Brown Jr., Ray Smith, Markus Howard and Chase Jeter trained under the elder Thomas at Christ the King Catholic Church and West Career Technical Academy, where his program had his seat before his move to Impact Basketball.
Its namesake stood happily on the baseline to watch and emulate their commitment to the unglamorous but necessary parts of player development: the fundamentals.
“That’s really all I’ve been working on,” DJ said. For hours after school every day, possibly adding strength and flexibility training to his regimen.
Like other prodigies, Thomas was feuding with older kids — like senior forward Joshua Jefferson, who also plays at Liberty — when he started playing organized basketball as a sophomore. But only on the condition that he endures the most rigorous coaching in the program to deny any perceived nepotism.
He would come off the bench and play out of position because he wasn’t tall or strong enough to score the point, instead learning the intricacies of the shooting guard position. Plus, “we could always make him a playmaker,” his dad said, because of how he learned to read the floor.
In seventh grade, Thomas began to manage the point and blend the skill sets he had spent previous years cultivating under the guided supervision of his father. The following year, he propelled Jack Lund Schofield Middle School to the city championship, playing with and without the ball. Or on the block when needed.
“It’s not about numbers. He knows if he checks the boxes, it’s all going to take care of himself,” said Dedan Sr., who ranks sixth at UNLV in career assists. “He was never one of those kids who only think about themselves.”
Lead in freedom
Thomas’ selfless nature and studious approach make him the perfect point guard to play Liberty under Soares, a Gorman alumnus who holds the NUR career assist record. Jefferson, one of the top seniors in the state and Saint Mary’s signee, is the perfect pick-and-roll partner for Thomas who can finish to the edge or jump for open jumpers.
Unsigned senior winger Aaron Price runs the floor and scores for the basket, and junior guard Angelo Kambala is one of the best shooters in the state.
A collection of reliable role players help support Thomas, who is averaging 12.9 points and 5.5 assists, shooting 49% from the field and has a 3.8 GPA.
He doesn’t dominate the ball, instead preferring to drive it forward to open teammates in transition. He’ll slip around a ball screen, drive, hit and move around the half court, waiting to pounce on defensive errors. He studies Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving, Paul for his pick-and-roll genius and Irving for his creativity in one-on-one situations.
Play the pass and he’ll score at the basket with an offensive arsenal that includes wavers and forgeries that confuse defenders and create crevices he can finish through. Help too much and get separated by precise passes to shooters and cutters who follow his movements.
“His basketball IQ is really good for someone his age,” Soares said. “It’s a coach’s dream to be able to coach a kid like that.”
Along with UNLV, Louisiana State and Washington State have extended scholarship offers for Thomas, and he says Arizona, UCLA and Stanford are among the other programs interested in him. He knows UNLV will continue to woo him as well, but insists he’s not focused much on his future with more high school basketball on the horizon. Namely, the Class 5A State Tournament, which kicks off Friday in Reno.
The Patriots lost to the Gaels again in the regular season and Friday in the Southern Region Championship Game, but Reno offers another redemption opportunity.
“He never wants to lose anything,” said Jefferson, who is averaging 18.0 points and 10.2 rebounds. “He has that dog in him. People think he’s a cool, laid back guy. But he can behead you if he really wants to. And as he gets older, that killer instinct is going to keep getting bigger and bigger.
Contact Sam Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.