2014 recruit watch: Shakayla Thomas

Shakayla Thomas, an athletic forward from the state of Alabama, is among the talented 2014 players being recruited by the Lady Vols. Go inside with InsideTennessee to hear from the recruit and her AAU coach.

Doug Bush, coach of the Southern Starz 2014, which won the AAU national championship last month in Orlando, Fla., is an excellent arbiter of top talent. Bush was the summer coach of current Lady Vol sophomore Jasmine Jones, a 6-2 forward who wowed with her athleticism as a freshman.

Bush is also the coach of Shakayla Thomas, a 6-0 forward who played on the championship Starz team and scored 27 points in the title game.

"Shakayla is one of the most athletic, powerful female basketball players I have ever been around," said Bush, who compared her speed to that of current Lady Vol senior Meighan Simmons.

"Her explosiveness, combined with her speed and power, is really amazing. Jasmine is a little bit taller. Shakayla is 6 feet tall. Shakayla is probably a more explosive offensive player than Jasmine was at the same age."

Thomas has been offered a scholarship by Tennessee – she was at the Lady Vols Elite Camp in June – and also has offers from the other SEC schools, including Texas A&M. Baylor, Louisville and Florida State also have extended the welcome mat, according to Bush, among other programs.

Bush is talkative about his player – and that is welcomed by a writer, because Thomas has little to say about her game. Bush said she prefers to provide her answers on the court. Thomas is polite and her answers are short. She confirmed her interest in Tennessee and anticipates taking a visit to Knoxville. She also intends to visit Georgia, Florida State, Auburn and South Carolina.

Thomas is from Sylacauga, Ala., and has long captured the interest of SEC schools. Bush isn't steering his star player in any direction and is comfortable with all of the schools recruiting her.

He is familiar with Tennessee since Jones, who is from Madison, Ala., headed north, and Bush said the selection of Holly Warlick as the coach to succeed Pat Summitt set him at ease.

"In my view Holly has done an incredible job," Bush said. "Once Holly was put in the position of being in charge, in my opinion she did a wonderful coaching job. Nobody picked them to win the SEC and they won the SEC regular season before the last game was even played. I think she did a great, great job with a young team.

"What I tell kids with regard to Tennessee specifically is Holly has been there 28 years. She has been in every practice. She has been in every home. She has been in every locker room and in every tournament game and in every national championship game during that period of time. She knows what needs to be done and is the perfect person to carry on Coach Summitt's legacy. Take the baton and move forward.

"Holly has a different personality. She has some different ideas, which is natural in any situation. But she also has that experience of all that success that she can carry with her that really nobody else has. Following a legend is not easy."

Thomas fits well the mold of player that has captured Tennessee's interest – gym denizens who are athletic and coachable.

"Oh, yeah, Shakayla is very coachable," Bush said. "I have coached her for three years over 100 games. She has always been responsive to instruction, to the things that I encouraged her to do while in the game and then also the things that I have encouraged her to work on in terms of her game in the off season.

"She spends a lot of time in the gym working on her game outside of our practices, outside of her school practices. She is kind of a gym rat."

Thomas said she doesn't anticipate that she will make a decision until after her official visits in the fall. Most of her staff contact is with Warlick and Dean Lockwood.

Her ability to score isn't in question. Thomas, who is two years younger than Jones, moved up a couple of years ago to play in a summer event with the older Starz team. Thomas was the leading scorer over a six-game span.

"She's matured even more," Bush said.

Thomas is undersized but can produce in the paint. However, Bush said she is likely to play small forward in college.

"Shakayla is a true wing player," he said. "At Tennessee's level she would project out to be a perfect three player. Shakayla is, in my opinion, the missing link as the three player that they would like to have from that position both offensively and defensively."

Thomas will have to get better at two things at the next level – defending and going hard on every possession. She agreed with that assessment.

"It probably is a mind-set thing," she said.

"When Shakayla puts her mind to it to defend – and I have seen her do it – she can lock down anybody on the perimeter," Bush said.

Bush is familiar with the campus and the current staff. He applauded Warlick keeping Summitt engaged with the program.

"Embracing that I am sure was a natural thing," he said. "It wasn't something that was concocted. That really just adds to the opportunity for success."

Bush also pointed to recruiting success. When Warlick signed a top ranked class from 2013 that included the 6-6 Mercedes Russell, it sent a signal that all was well still at Tennessee.

"I think once people saw that the name players were not going to be scared away, that they were going to continue to come to Tennessee, I think that kind of put everybody's mind at ease," he said.

"Once Mercedes Russell said, ‘Hey, I am coming to Tennessee,' that put everybody's mind at ease. Nobody could negatively recruit against Tennessee using that as a reason."

The Lady Vols have one 2014 commit in the fold in combo guard Alexa Middleton of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Warlick and staff are seeking teammates for her come signing day. Thomas anticipated that she would be ready to ink an LOI in November. In the meantime, she will focus on basketball.

"I don't play any other sport," Thomas said. "I play year-round basically."

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