One of the greatest prep basketball players in Pasco County history now gets to showcase his skills before millions of viewer’s in the NCAA Tournament this week.
Wesley Chapel High product Erik Thomas, a 6-foot-5 senior forward at the University of New Orleans, helped the Privateers punch a ticket to the Big Dance after downing Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in overtime, 68-65, on March 11 in the Southland Conference Championship game.
The Privateers now face Mount St. Mary’s (19-15) on March 14 at 5:30 p.m., in Dayton, Ohio. The game will be broadcast on truTV.
The automatic bid marks the school’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1996.
“It’s a blessing,” Thomas said, in a postgame media conference. “We played so tough and wanted it so bad. It’s a big story for us to tell 10, 20 years from now that we can tell our family that we went dancing. We went to the NCAA Tournament. Not many people can say that.”
Thomas, the Southland Conference Player of the Year, was also named SLC Tournament MVP after posting a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds to go with a team-best three assists.
In the conference tourney, Thomas averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.
New Orleans, meanwhile, finished the regular season 18-11, thanks to Thomas’ breakout season.
Thomas played in all 29 games, leading the Privateers in scoring (19.7 points per game), rebounding (7.9 per game) and shooting (60.3 field goal percentage).
He also led the team with 208 field goals, 152 free throws, and 44 steals and a 60.3 field goal percentage.
Among all Division I men’s basketball players, Thomas sits 19th in field goal percentage, 44th in scoring average, 53rd in offensive rebounds per game, 121st in total rebounds per game, 143rd in steals per game and 213th in defensive rebounds per game.
In a statement, New Orleans head coach Mark Slessinger complimented Thomas’ effort and impact to the program.
“Erik has worked so hard since he’s gotten here,” Slessinger said. “He’s had very defined individual goals that have always been within the team framework and our team concept. I’m so proud of how much work he’s put into it. Between him, the staff and how hard our staff worked with him and his development, he’s a self-made player. But, the credit really goes to him and how hard he’s worked.”
A four-year letterman at Wesley Chapel under coach Doug Greseth, Thomas remains the school’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder with 2,138 points and 1,203 rebounds, respectively.
In his senior prep season, Thomas was named Class 5A Player of the Year after averaging a state-best 32.7 points per game and 16.3 rebounds per game.
Moreover, he helped lead the Wildcats to a combined 74-38 overall record, a 37-17 mark in district play and berths in the playoffs each year, including identical 24-5 marks with District 8-5A titles his last two years.
Despite the production and showy statistics, Thomas was relatively overlooked as a Division I prospect out of high school.
He opted to play two seasons in junior college—East Georgia State College and Baton Rouge Community College—before transferring to New Orleans his junior season.
Thomas is the younger brother of Sthefany Thomas, who scored a Pasco County girls record 2,563 points while playing at Wesley Chapel. He is also the son of James Thomas, who was a forward for two seasons for the Atlanta Hawks.
Published March 15, 2017