As early as 2012, Elijah Thomas already boasted a national reputation. He strode into the Peach Jam that summer as one of the country's more celebrated rising sophomores, and he delivered on the big stage from the get-go.
He also began a cycle of inconsistency largely pertaining to fitness issues, yet he always has maintained blue-chip status. And for good reason: Thomas possesses true center size yet boasts far more skill than the overwhelming majority of prep big men.
He entertained a very lengthy list of college programs until this past spring, when he cut his contenders to 10: USC, Florida, Memphis, Texas, Oregon, Illinois, Ohio State, SMU, Oklahoma State and UNLV.
Thomas suffered a finger injury that would limit his play for next several months, and his recruitment changed complexion as well. Texas A&M, Connecticut and others became factors during his recovery, before he finally whittled his list to SMU, Illinois, LSU, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.
It was interesting, then, that the Aggies — which didn't emerge prominently until late — were able to prevail and give the program its second (along with Tyler Davis) big-time senior center pledge.
Thomas isn't just big; he's a load even by collegiate standards. He's very difficult to uproot from the post and can be devastating with his back to the basket. He possesses sure hands and thus catches even tricky, entry bounce passes, and he scores via jumphooks and advanced footwork that includes both primary and counter moves.
|Thomas wheels and deals post offense with confidence|
His penchant for interior scoring makes him an oddity at a time when even centers frequently focus on their ability to play facing the basket. Thomas has a little face-up ability, too, but clearly his primary role will be to bludgeon opponents in the paint.
In addition to a jump hook and his various power moves — he possesses excellent balance — Thomas also is a gifted ambidextrous finisher.
Beyond scoring, he's a strong rebounder whose production should improve even further as he rounds into optimum condition. Whether he emerges more fully on defense down the road remains to be seen, but he's already a capable shotblocker and clearly holds immense potential for that end of the court.
We list Thomas at 6-9, 250 pounds, but that's a day to day thing and his weight always has been a source of consternation for coaches. At times, such this past July in Las Vegas (after returning from the injury), Thomas has appeared bloated and woefully under-conditioned. The excess weight affects his mobility, stamina and explosiveness, which isn't a primary strength for him in the first place.
By far, maintaining a healthy and proactive approach to his body will be critical to his success as a college freshman. You'd have to assume that over time he'll learn his conditioning needs inside and out — and obviously he'll receive the benefit of world class training — but in the immediate future his weight looms as a concern.
Otherwise, Thomas at times has struggled mightily from the free throw line and must enhance that aspect of his game, given the amount of contact that he initiates.
If he arrives on campus in peak condition, Thomas could become an instant impact player and a double-double machine right out of the gate. While his being overweight at times has hampered him, at least he isn't a stringbean who will need years to develop the necessary bulk for the sport's highest levels.
A conditioned and fierce Thomas will be able to light up the scoreboard as well as hold down the defensive glass, giving his club an interior attack to balance its long-range shooting and more athletic elements.
Some may scratch their head and wonder how Thomas and Davis (also a burly center) will coexist, but that's a wonderful challenge for the coaching staff to solve. As it is, the Aggies boast a one of the best classes in the SEC and will have a one-two interior punch that could hold its own with Kentucky and everyone else in the league. Additionally, blue-chip combo forward D.J. Hogg and sharpshooting guard Admon Gilder are headed to College Station as well.
Long-term, Thomas projects as a likely NBA player and should reap handsome dividends from his advanced combination of size and skill.