Early Ability

Tom Coleman, assistant basketball coach at Shaw High School in Cleveland, first saw the potential of West Virginia basketball signee Will Thomas when he was just an eighth grader.

"Will's older brother was playing for me on the varsity, and during the summer we would to different schools and play in open gym. He told me, ‘Let's take my little brother with us.' He was just an eighth grader at the time, so I didn't know how he would perform, but he played down low and was getting rebounds against all these high school guys. He ended up starting for us for four years.

"I think I really knew he had arrived when we went to play in a tournament and he just dominated a game there. He had eight points and 12 rebounds and five assists as a freshman in one game there, and just took over."

Thomas followed a different path to his point guard position than most perimeter players, who typically grow up as guards and play outside for their entire careers. He played on the front line as a freshman, then just a handful of games at point as a sophomore before moving full time to that position as a junior and a senior. That experience helped him learn the game from different perspectives, and certainly contributed to his court sense and passing ability.

"He led us in assists as a ninth grader playing down low, and he just has a gift for passing the ball," Coleman said. "Some coaches will try to take credit for developing a player, but we just let him play. His greatest attribute is his passing. It's just phenomenal. If you don't know him, you think he's trying to get fancy, but he just knows where to put the ball."

Some of that knowledge comes from playing different positions on the court. After playing in the post and on the front line, Thomas knows where and how to get the ball to the big guys inside. And his court sense and vision, both in the half court and in transition, are simply outstanding.

"In the open court no one can touch him," Coleman said. "He needs to work on his jumper – I'd give it about a C+ right now – but over the last two years he has really worked to improve his scoring, and he can really get to the basket."

At six feet, five inches and 200 pounds, Thomas has the size and strength to penetrate among the big bodies in the Big East, where his passing skills should make him tough to deal with in the lane. With the ability to either shoot or dish, and the size to see over many defenders, Thomas could be a dual threat for Mountaineer opponents. On the defensive end, Coleman believes he has all the tools to be a player in the Huggins mold, and that the Mountaineer coach will get someone that can be molded to his style. "Like all high school players, he took a play or two off here and there on defense, but I have no doubt that Coach Huggins will push him and get the most out of him. He is a good defensive player, and he will respond to a tough style of coaching."

Recruiting interest in Thomas lagged when he suffered a broken leg during his senior season, but offers from Washington State, St Joseph's, and Seton Hall came late before he signed with West Virginia. Ohio University was the frontrunner for a while, but after Thomas' visit to West Virginia he knew he had found a home.

"He could have gone to any of those schools, but he knows Bob's style of coaching and he said he wanted to play for the best," Coleman said. "I met coach Huggins this past year, when he came to see Will play. From that point on, we have had a good relationship. I am just so happy that he monitored him and stayed with him and liked what he saw. He has always been honest with me and with Will.

"Before Huggins offered him, he was probably going to Ohio. When he got the offer from West Virginia, he was torn. OU has a great program and is a great academic institution. We had a long talk about it. {Shaw head coach) Hines and I supported him in his decision. I never want to force him or tell him what to do. But when he visited West Virginia, it took him about a minute and a half to decide. We were coming down the stairs from the coaches' offices at West Virginia when he told me, ‘I am coming to West Virginia.' I told him he needed to tell Coach Huggins that, and so we went back up and told him.

"He and Da'Sean Butler really hit it off, and he met and liked Jonnie West too. "He loved Coach Martin and the academic setup and the campus. He understands it's academics first and basketball second, and when he saw West Virginia, he told me, ‘I have it all right here.'"

NOTES

Thomas is already qualified, and will be eligible to play during his freshman season.

"He graduates on May 12, and will be at West Virginia on June 8. He plans to take classes this summer and get started as soon as he can," Coleman noted.

* * *

Thomas broke his right fibula in a freak accident while working out at school. He was running wind sprints in a hallway with teammates when a door to the gym was opened and caught him on the leg. While he could have returned for his final few games, it was decided to not risk any setbacks. He is expected to be fully ready to participate in conditioning work when he begins his career at WVU

"Of course, he was distraught and it took him a while to get over it," Coleman said of the injury. "But he persevered and came to the games and supported his teammates. It allowed him to look at the game a little differently. I think it changed him a little bit and made him even more appreciative of the game and what he has."

* * *

Coleman also believes the injury severely affected his national ranking.

"He is definitely one of the best players I've ever coached. Will is a special kid. He is just scratching the surface of his potential. I know he ended up being ranked #107 here and #169 there, but in my opinion he is definitely a top 50 player. I think the injury affected his rating a lot. I don't know if he would have made the McDonald's all-star game, but I definitely think he would have been in the Jordan Classic. He was on his way to having a banner senior year."


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