The fact that SMU has three five-star centers on campus over the weekend is remarkable.
If you would have told most SMU fans this just a couple of years ago, they would have laughed. But Larry Brown and his band of relentless assistants have made SMU basketball relevant on not only a local but a national scale.
And landing recruits of this magnitude is no longer a dream-- it's an expectation. Lancaster's Elijah Thomas has been one of Brown's top targets since he took over at SMU and was one of those elite big men in attendance to watch the Mustangs upset No. 17 UConn in renovated Moody Coliseum.
"The visit was great. The fans, the players and the coaches were all going crazy throughout the game. It was a great atmosphere, and Moody is bigger than I thought it was," Thomas said. "It was great seeing all the fans there. At the end of the day I want to go to a school that helps me get to the next level and is about helping me get better. But yes, seeing SMU beat UConn and seeing all the support they have definitely legitimizes SMU."
Thomas has been to a few SMU basketball games over the past few years, but this time around he really focused on the bigs and their role in Brown's offense.
"I think I can fit in well. Coach Brown runs an NBA style offense, and that's what everyone wants," Thomas said. "My style is different from their big men. I like to get my teammates more involved, and I feel like I could bring a threat to score. Whenever the ball is in my hand, it's either going to an open teammate or in the basket."
In October, Thomas, who holds close to 50 offers, narrowed his list to 24 schools. SMU made the cut along with the likes of Arizona, Georgetown and Indiana. Thomas says he doesn't plan to cut his list again until the summer and is not ready to name any ‘real favorites.'
But Thomas did make it clear that SMU is definitely a program that is very likely to survive his next cut.
"I'm still a junior so it hasn't gotten to a point where I'm ready to have a set list of favorites. SMU is on the list right now, and they're a great school that's close to home," Thomas said. "A lot of my friends are also getting recruited by them. My best friend is actually Admon Gilder, and he made the visit with me, and it would be cool to play with him."
Another reason Thomas holds high interest in the Ponies is his relationship with Brown. Thomas is impressed with the number of NBA big men Brown has coached such as Dikembe Mutombo, who was in attendance at the game, and feels he can learn a lot from the Hall of Famer.
"After the game, he talked to all of us and told us that it meant a lot to him for us to come out. We all really like him. He's always smiling and loves basketball," Thomas said. "Coach Brown is a big mentor for me. He always checks up on me and how I'm doing with the transformation of my body and life and staying humble. It just really shows that he cares."
Brown has made a couple of trips to Lancaster this season to watch Thomas in action at practice and games. Thomas, the No. 5 ranked center in the Class of 2015, transferred to Lancaster from Prime Prep before the season began.
So far, Thomas is making a major impact on his new team. The Tigers are 15-4 and were the champions of the prestigious DISD/Coca-Cola holiday tournament, where they defeated Jawun Evans' Dallas Kimball and Gilder's Dallas Madison before topping South Oak Cliff in the title game. Thomas is averaging 13.7 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
"Everything is going really well here. It's been a good fit for me, and I've really stepped up as a leader," Thomas said. "I'm just focused on leading the team to state. Individually, I just want to keep getting better. I hate being satisfied. I want to be more versatile down low, improve as a shooter and be more patient."
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