Bloomington, Ind. – This is a different DeAndre Thomas than the one Chipola (Fla.) Junior College coach Greg Heiar saw a year ago.
First of all, there's less of Thomas to see. The 6-8 center has dropped 40 pounds since he returned to campus in the fall, cutting his weight from 345 to 303. He's done that with a renewed focus on conditioning and nutrition that was essential for the one-time Chicago Westinghouse standout.
"Deandre wants to be a great player," Heiar said. "He's starting to realize that the only thing that can hold him back from being whatever he wants to be is his conditioning and his weight. He's taken it upon himself to do what's right, to eat right, and to work harder on a day-to-day basis to get in better shape. As a result, his performance has improved."
But Heiar said the improved conditioning is just one of the differences he's seen. He says there have been noticeable changes on the court and off the court as well.
"He's matured in the classroom - last year I would say he was a below average student, and this year he's an above average student," Heiar said. "Last year he was an average practice player, and this year he's an above average practice player. Last year I would have said there's no chance he could be a captain of a basketball team, and this year he's the captain of our basketball team."
Heiar isn't the only one who has taken notice of Thomas' development. The IU coaching staff has as well. Thomas was in Bloomington for an official visit in late October along with his Chipola JC teammate Jamarcus Ellis, and Heiar said it looks like Thomas will be joining Ellis in Bloomington next season.
"He's not going to sign early with them due to the scholarships they have available, but they are going to have one late in the spring," Heiar said. "He's planning on committing to them after the (early) signing period, and then signing in the spring."
The reasons for picking IU, Heiar said, are plentiful. Thomas would have a chance to play alongside Ellis, a childhood friend of his from Chicago. He'd also have the opportunity to play in the Big Ten and close to home, and with the talent Coach Kelvin Sampson is bringing in, Thomas believes he'd have a shot at playing for a national championship with the Hoosiers.
Sampson was also a big factor, as the two have a pre-existing relationship from when Sampson recruited him two years ago when he was the head coach at Oklahoma.
"When he came back from his visit, he was excited about the place, the players, the coaches and the atmosphere around the program," Heiar said.
Indiana has become increasingly interested in him as well. The IU staff saw Thomas on a handful of occasions during the summer and fall while going to see Ellis workout at Chipola. There was some initial concern, though, due to Thomas' conditioning.
"(Indiana) was interested in the beginning, but they just needed to see progress with his weight and with his conditioning," Heiar said. "They knew once he made progress in those areas, he was going to be a tremendous player in the low block."
When Thomas first arrived at Chipola a year ago, Heiar said he weighed 335, and by the end of the season he was up to 340. Be returned to campus this fall at 345, but is now down to 303. He's been a force in the early going for Chipola, helping them to a 3-0 start by averaging 18 points and 7.7 rebounds.
While Heiar is pleased with Thomas' progress, he'd still like to see him shed a few more pounds off his frame.
"Anything under 280 and I think with the way he moves, he's going to be more explosive," Heiar said. "I think he's unstoppable once he gets under 280."
Things Shaping Up for Thomas, IU
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