"That was the first time I have been to West Virginia, and I didn't know the fans were that crazy," New Jersey native Shaquille Thomas told BlueGoldNews.com. I went to both the basketball game against Cleveland State and the football game against South Florida, and it was a great environment. They just go crazy over everything. I didn't think it would be like that. The people really got up for the teams, and they supported them. And they were nice and welcomed me too."
Such statements aren't unusual to hear from first-time visitors to WVU, be they basketball players like Thomas or football recruits. As always, simply getting them on campus is the first big step in the process. Once that occurs, it's usually a bit simpler for coaches to sell their programs.
That's not to say, however, that getting a commitment from the junior star will be simple. Thomas said he is still "wide open" in terms of the recruiting process. And with teams such as Syracuse, Kansas, and Xavier in the chase for his eventual signature, the recruiting battle will certainly be a long one. However, the Mountaineers do appear to be in the hunt for Thomas, who has a couple of ties to current West Virginia players.
"I know Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones, because I played against them in high school," Thomas related. "I hung out with them a lot while I was there. Truck told me it's a good program, and that Coach Huggins is straight with them. He knows what you have to do to get to the next level, and he can help you do that. He showed that last year with Joe Alexander."
Thomas had a full schedule on his visit, checking out a practice as well as the two games on Saturday.
"The practice was really hard and intense," he said. "You have to bring your game every day. They have a treadmill that you have to jump on for like 45 seconds if you make a mistake, and that looked tough. But that's what you have to do to get better and get to the next level. I got to talk to a lot of the players, especially Truck and Kevin, and that was good."
Thomas is attempting to transfer from Paterson Catholic High School to Montclair, and is undergoing an appeal process to a decision that initially denied that request. He is practicing with Montclair, but won't be able to play unless the appeal reverses the original decision. In the meantime, he is focusing on improving his game, and will likely delay more visits until after the season.
"I'm good in transition. I'm a solid shooter, and I rebound well and am athletic. I guess you'd say being versatile is my biggest strength," he said. "I think with some added weight I can be very good – I want to be one of the best players in the country. "I'm 6-7 and around 180 now; I think I can get to around 195 by next year and then in college I'd like to be around 215-220. I definitely think I can do that, and if I do it will help me a lot in all areas of my game.
"I want to keep working on my all-around game. I can play the two, three or four, and I have guard skills. I grew up playing outside, because I wasn't one of the big men. I can handle the ball, but that's still something else I want to keep working on."