Catching up with Elijah Thomas


During this roller coaster of a recruiting season, no Illini recruit has been more fun to follow than Elijah Thomas.

Sure, Illinois fans received the best news of the fall so far when Jalen Coleman-Lands committed to John Groce on Sept. 23, but Coleman-Lands’ recruiting saga had a more toned-down approach than the pursuit of Thomas, the talented big man out of Texas.

Thomas is the type of kid who can make recruiting fun. He’s a well-spoken, enthusiastic person to talk to. He seems to thoroughly enjoy the recruiting process. He’s also a great follow on Twitter.

For a social media-hungry fan base like Illinois, Thomas is both a blessing and a curse. He interacts with fans on the Internet in a good-natured way, giving them hope while not letting any real clues leak out regarding which school he might attend. Of course, that leaves the most rabid fans desperate for more.

Oh, and he also has Waka Flocka Flame in his corner. For what it’s worth, the rapper called Thomas the No. 1 prospect in the country.

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But for all the fun Thomas Watch 2014 has been, it seems Thomas himself is almost ready to let the hype wind down. On Tuesday, he revealed he will announce his decision Oct. 21 at his high school (with Waka in attendance, of course) via a news conference. Thomas chose that day because he’s ready to shift his focus away from recruiting, and he feels he’ll have made up his mind on a school by that point.

“You set that (date) because of the way you feel, because you feel like you’ll be deciding by then,” Thomas said. “My whole goal is to decide where I’m going to college so I can focus on my senior year of high school and hopefully graduate with a 4.0 (GPA). So I feel like if I do it early, I’ll be able to focus on those things. That’s pretty much my main focus.”

Thomas will take all of his official visits before announcing a decision. He has one last visit scheduled, to Texas A&M this weekend, and he’s fresh off a visit to SMU last weekend.

Thomas loved his SMU visit, which was highlighted by the chance to interact with Mustangs head coach Larry Brown. Besides hanging out with the legendary coach, Thomas also enjoyed himself during the rest of his time on the campus, which included a chance to watch a SMU practice.

Though Thomas had rave reviews about his time on the Illini campus, it was an unexpected development on one visit that stood out to him most during his four-school tour.

Les Miles, the LSU football coach, made an impression on Thomas during his visit to Baton Rouge, offering him a spot on his football team as a goal-line tight end.

Illinois didn’t offer Thomas a football scholarship, but his Illinois visit made enough of an impression for Thomas to declare the Illini the leader in his recruitment soon after he left Champaign.

It’s been more than two weeks since he left the Illinois campus, and in that time his friend Jawun Evans committed to Oklahoma State, who is also recruiting Thomas. But he didn’t waver when asked if the Illini were still the frontrunner.

“Yes, I can say they’re still the leader right now,” Thomas said.

While the allure of a package deal to Oklahoma State with Evans looms large, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Thomas is close with Illini players as well. He isn’t worried about fitting in, on or off the court.

“I think I would fit in well,” Thomas said. “I know all the players, so there’s nothing to really worry about. The fan support is really awesome. It’s a really cool college town; it’s a basketball school, so I like that as well.”

There’s no question Thomas, with his ability and 6-foot-9 frame, would receive a hero’s welcome at Illinois if he commits, but Thomas believes his intangibles would be valuable to the Illini on the court as well.

“I bring a competitive edge, a heart and desire to always win,” Thomas said. “I think that, along with everything else, as far as skill and my ability, (and) getting everybody involved and being a leader, I think that’s something that (would be vital to) the team.”

So now, there will be an agonizing two-week wait before Thomas delivers the final verdict. Illini fans hope he’ll be the one to break the streak of unfortunate publicized announcements by Illinois recruits in recent history, in which the Illini always seem to fall short.

Besides the all-important college decision, Thomas has one more matter to resolve before Oct. 21: How he’ll announce his choice to the camera.

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out right now,” Thomas joked. “My head’s kind of shaped awkwardly; I don’t know if a hat will fit my head on TV properly.”

You can be sure Thomas, always the showman, will think of something.

Alex is a junior in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @aroux94.