Isaiah Thomas leads the Washington men's basketball team in scoring and assists, and is among the leaders in grade-point average.
That last one is the surprise, given that Thomas developed his reputation as an athlete far more than as a student during his time at Curtis High School in University Place.
“All I was thinking about was basketball – especially in high school,” Thomas said. “In Tacoma, everybody knew me, so it was like so surreal, like, ‘I don’t really need to do this.’ I was childish. I was immature.”
Thomas says he was never as bad a student as some people believe. However, he admits falling behind in his credits while at Curtis Junior High and then compounding that with a bad junior year of high school. The end result was he couldn’t go directly from Curtis to UW.
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Two things he did instead changed his academic life. Peace Community Center Hilltop Scholars Program in Tacoma helped prepare him for his SAT; and early in his senior year at Curtis, he transferred across the country to the South Kent prep school in Connecticut.
He was there for two years. Although at times, it may have seemed like 20.
“I went to see him at South Kent one time (after he had signed with UW),” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said. “It was a day when school was not in – and I drive up and he is literally sitting on the steps by the cafeteria – no one is around, he’s just sitting there like, ‘Wow, when is someone going to rescue me from Mars?’ And I’ll never forget that look. ... He had no outlet: His parents said, ‘No, you’re going to stay there, and you’re going to get this done.’ I think it went a long ways in helping him mature and developing to be a better student.”
Some prep schools are basketball factories – places where grades are provided for those who produce on the court.
South Kent is not one of those.
“I sent guys home more often for not doing schoolwork than messing up in basketball,” said Raphael Chillious, former South Kent basketball coach and a current UW assistant. “... South Kent was one of those places where if you didn’t do what you were supposed to do, you weren’t able to stay there.”
Thomas stayed, but he made it no secret that he was miserable.
Suddenly, family and friends were a continent away. And all that filled the void was basketball, homesickness and sudden demands that academics be taken seriously.
So, that’s what he did.
Thomas’ coaches agree that he is someone who tries to do what is expected. And when academic expectations were made clear, his grades began to climb.
Since arriving at UW, Thomas’ grades haven’t been a problem. His 2.6 GPA last quarter was among the best on the team.
“He just established himself that whatever he was supposed to do, he was going to do it,” Chillious said. “From an academic-profile background, there are some stronger guys with a stronger background than he has. But he’s come in and he’s mastered how to get his stuff done and do what he’s supposed to do. So I’m not surprised that he’s doing so well.”
Thomas’ current major is American ethic studies. However, he said he is interested in a possible career in law enforcement and plans to discuss that with his academic advisor.
Thomas is on course not only to graduate, but also to graduate early.
That could change if he decides to go on to professional basketball after this season. But sooner or later, he wants to graduate.
“The diploma’s big, something that hasn’t happened in my family,” he said. “Nobody’s graduated from college. ... I’m on pace to graduate in the fall next year. It’s something big. It’s in the back of my head that I need to get that. But the NBA also is something big. It is what it is. If there is a chance I can go, I might go. But graduating is something big.”
Junior guard Scott Suggs is expected to return to the rotation Thursday when UCLA visits Hec Edmundson Pavilion. Suggs has missed three games with a strained left medial collateral ligament. C.J. Wilcox is expected to retain a starting job. ... The two Pac-10 coaches who faced UCLA last week came away impressed. Speaking at the weekly Pac-10 coaches conference call, Arizona State’s Herb Sendek said the Bruins are “playing as well as most anybody right now in the country,” and Arizona’s Sean Miller said “UCLA is playing the best basketball of their season.”