Washington junior guard Isaiah Thomas uploaded a video on YouTube from his days as a sixth-grader at Naches Trail Elementary School in Tacoma.
The footage is a little spotty at times and it’s long, but you’ll recognize the pint-sized lefty in the early minutes dashing into the lane for a scoop layup that we’ve seen before.
The video is poignant because during an extensive interview I asked Thomas if he envisioned himself accomplishing so much at Washington and he said he’s always been a confident kid.
Confident or not, few people predicted the 5-foot-9 (apparently he grew an inch the past year) guard taking Montlake by storm so soon. He ranks 26th on UW’s all-time scoring list with 1,134 points and has amassed more points in the first two years of a career than any previous Husky.
Thomas isn’t as brash as he was last year at this time when he talked about leading the Huskies to the Final Four and winning the Pac-10 MVP award. He says he’d rather let his play speak for him.
Still, he opened up a bit about a couple of his goals.
“I’m trying to go four for four with Pac-10 championships,” he said. “So maybe I’ll be the first one to do that. [UW won the regular-season title in 2009 and the conference tournament last season.] That’s my main goal. And this year, my main goal is get on the first team all-defense.”
We also talked about the NBA and there’s a possibility Thomas would forgo his senior year if the NBA comes calling.
(You’re on pace to be one of the greatest athletes in UW history. How did this happen?)
“My heart. My confidence. It’s something that everybody doesn’t have. I have a killer’s mentality. I don’t know where I got it from, it’s just there. I’m a winner and it has a lot to do with my teammates. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in. I thank them to the fullest. It has to do with working hard and doing whatever it takes to win.”
(Did you always see yourself in this position when you were a kid?) “Honestly I did. I’m not even trying to say I’m cocky or anything like that. My confidence level is so high, I feel like I can do anything. Especially when I get on the court. When I’m playing, I feel like anything can happen. It’s great to be mentioned with B-Roy (Brandon Roy) and Nate (Robinson) and stuff like that.”
(I don’t think you get it. It’s bigger than that. We’re talking about Hugh McElgheny, Steve Emtman and Daniell Lawrie.) “If I can be mentioned with them that’s an honor. I’m going to try to do everything I can to bring championships here. I’m trying to go 4 for 4 with Pac-10 championships. So maybe I’ll be the first one to do that. That’s my main goal. And this year, my main goal is get on the first team all-defense.”
(Any other personal goals?) “Not really. That’s one that stuck out. I want to show people I’m getting better. It’s not just about getting better.”
(Every year at this time before the season someone asks are you thinking about the NBA and that becomes a story for a few days. So let’s get it out of the way now. Are you thinking about the NBA or will you play two more years at UW?) “I’m going to be honest, it’s in my mind. The NBA is a dream that everybody wants and I’m a step closer to achieving my all-time dream, all-time goal. But right now, it’s about this team and trying to do anything possible to win ball games here. Then if I have the opportunity to go to the NBA, then I’ll take really consider it then. But I’m not really worried about it now.”
(It sounds like you’re leaving the door open.) “You always have to. You got to have options. Nobody knows what will happen this year. Nobody knows if I’ll have a great year or a bad year. You got to leave your options open.”
(You averaged 15.5 points as a freshman, 16.9 as a sophomore. Seems like you could get to 20 points this year, however, there’s a lot of potential scorers on this team.) “It doesn’t matter, but it can happen. We got so many shooters, it’s going to open it up for me so much more. The easier buckets I get, the more I get. But I’m not worried about that. It is in the back of my head for the records. But it’s about this team at the end of the day and anything coach needs me to do, I’ll do. If he wants me go out and score 30, I can do that.”
(With an average year, you’ll easily move into the top 10 all-time scoring at UW. With two average years, you’ll pass Chris Welp, UW’s all-time scoring leader. That’s crazy. Have you talked with the guys you’re soon going to pass in the record books?) “Nah. I talk to Jamal Crawford and Brandon Roy everyday and they admit every time they see me they’re like man it’s crazy you’re the all-time leading scorer for the first two years in Husky history. And it is. It hasn’t really hit me yet. It hasn’t. I don’t know why, but it hasn’t. It’s something that’s an honor. But I’m trying to do bigger and better things.”
(Have you always been mature for your age?) “I think so. Especially when I went away to prep school. That matured me so much. And growing up with my parents. My dad and my mom, that’s where I get it from.”
(In what ways have you matured in the past year?) “Just thinking about life, being able to be that much closer to providing for family. Things started to click. It’s a business. It’s something that I want to do for the rest of my life. And I don’t know, you got to mature at some age and some point in time. I feel like I have and I’m taking it real serious. I’m trying to do some things.”
(Was there a time at UW when you didn’t take it serious?) “I felt like I always took it seriously, but now obviously I have a different approach. I don’t know what it is, not just with basketball but with life period. Just growing up. It happens to everybody. You realize things and you think things through. … It clicked for me this summer. Being around those types of dudes and seeing what they got and knowing that’s my ultimate goal and knowing I’m a step closer. ”
(You did some speaking engagements with coach Lorenzo Romar in the spring. What was that like?) “It’s an honor. They look at you as not just a good basketball player, but a good person. If you were just a good basketball player, they wouldn’t try to talk to you outside of hoop. It’s all about growing up. My dad always told me, you’ll know when you’re growing up. The things you do in life. The things you take responsibility of. And now it’s all coming at me.”
(You talked about your circle before. Who’s in your circle?) “I got a lot of people in my circle. Jamal Crawford is one. He’s helped me so much, not just on the court, but off the court. Seeing how they live. Seeing what they’ve got and how close I am, it’s crazy. He’s always been like my big brother. Him and Brandon Roy. Jason Terry. I just learn from those dudes. Watching them every day that I’m with them. Watching how they interact with people. Watching how they hoop. Everything.”
(You’ve been the face of UW basketball for the past two years now and it seems like your teammates are okay with that.) “At the end of the day, it’s about this team. They know what it is. We had a meeting the other day. We got that saying, ‘We all we got.’ It’s us, this group and you ride or die with it. And we’re trying to do some big things this year and everybody is with it.”
(What’s your relationship like with Justin Holiday, Washington’s other co-captain?) “Great. He’s my dude. It’s great that we’re captains together. Everybody is real close on this team, but he’s my dude. It’s fun being able to lead with him.”
(What’s the dynamic between the seniors, the captains and Abdul Gaddy who could be the starting point guard? Can an 18-year-old lead when there’s four assertive veterans around?) “He will. It comes to just repetition. He was 17 years old last year. I know what he’s capable of. We know what he’s capable of. He just has to do it. I feel like he’s worked this summer and he’s going to show people. He was No. 2 behind John Wall and John Wall was the No. 1 pick (in the draft). You don’t – I’m not going to say that he fell off – but you don’t fall that much within one year. People know how good he is. I know how good he is and he’s going to show people.”