Elijah Thomas gets it.
The smooth, skilled 6’5” wing without question has the “it” factor on the floor but there’s far more to the Sunrise Mountain High School senior than just basketball. Specifically, a balance and work ethic which has helped Thomas excel since stepping on the Peoria campus as a skinny, bright-eyed freshman.
“Each year he’s become more mature,” PSHS head coach and teacher Gary Rath said to Sports360AZ.com. “He’s even become a leader in the classroom. He gets his work done. He knows what he has to do.”
The late-bloomer who didn’t start playing basketball until seventh grade is committed to play for Saint Mary’s College next season. To reach the Division I level he re-committed himself on the hard wood and in the classroom.
“I’m just studying more,” Thomas said after his 23-point performance in the Mustangs 59-49 win over Bradshaw Mountain Thursday night. “I need to study two, three hours a night to get [the work] done. I’ve been going early in the mornings to see my teachers if I’m struggling in their class. Get extra work with them.”
In between study breaks and fast breaks he also enjoys being active in the west Valley community.
“I help out at my church,” he explained. “Friday nights sometimes we go feed the homeless. They’re less fortunate. They don’t have what we have. That makes me appreciate what I have a lot more.”
What Thomas has on the court is one of the most polished skill sets in Arizona. Adept handling the ball with either hand he mostly runs the point despite being the tallest player on the team. His smooth jump shot and vision make him nearly unstoppable as he leads the Mustangs in scoring (18.2), rebounds (5.7), and assists per game (2.9). He’s also shooting 51% from the field and 75% from the free throw line.
“Each year he just added to his game,” Rath said of his four-year varsity player. “Wasn’t a very good outside shooter when he started. [He] just got better and better at that. Obviously, defensively he’s come a long ways with his ability to rebound and push the ball.”
Thomas said his connection with Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett, paired with the Gaels’ style of play, made the West Coast Conference power a perfect fit. He also had offers from Nevada, Fresno State, Memphis, Long Beach State, Colorado State and others. ASU, Minnesota and Wichita State also expressed interest but after visiting the quaint northern California campus he’s confident he made the right decision.
“It felt like home,” he said.