Guard excels in freshman season


By Tom Burton

DeKALB — Justin Thomas, men’s basketball freshman guard, knew he wanted to play collegiate basketball ever since the glory days of playing in his driveway with his older brothers.

“My older brothers led the way for me and pushed me to get where I needed to be to succeed,” Thomas said. “They opened the door for me.”

Thomas, who grew up in Indianapolis, has played basketball since he was four years old. As the youngest child in his family, Thomas credits his three older brothers, Paris, 24, Jordan, 22 and Jalen, 21, for constantly pushing him to be the best basketball player and person he could be.

Although he always wanted to be a collegiate basketball player, it took him until high school to realize his potential and how talented he was.

Under the influence of his brothers and his family, and with an athletic scholarship, Thomas became the first person in his family to attend college for free. Thomas considers this to be his greatest accomplishment.

“After playing for awhile, I started to realize that playing basketball at [the collegiate] level was a realistic goal,” Thomas said. “It has been a great experience.”

Thomas played on his high school team at Pike High School in Indianapolis, where he averaged 15.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.6 steals per game as a senior and led the team to 50 wins and two sectional titles in three seasons.

In the recruiting process, he drew interest from Drake University, University of Wisconsin, University of Tennessee and NIU, along with other Mid-American Conference schools.

Thomas said the recruiting process was confusing because he would have to pick out days and times to meet the people and teams interested in him.

“I came to NIU and it was really nice and just felt right,” Thomas said.

In his freshman season for the Huskies, Thomas is averaging 5.1 points in just under 18 minutes.

When sophomore guard Laytwan Porter, the team’s starting point guard to begin the season, missed three games from Dec. 14 to 20 because of a violation of team rules, Thomas was inserted into the starting lineup. 

Even with Porter back in the rotation, the coaching staff has kept Thomas in the starting lineup and has started him the past eight games for the Huskies.

Head Coach Mark Montgomery said he enjoys the way Thomas plays and does not have any intention of changing the freshman guard’s role. Montgomery said he appreciates Thomas’s court vision and how he commits very few turnovers. 

“[Thomas] does not get sped up and plays under control,” Montgomery said. 

Thomas said he understands the team is very talented.

“We can go pretty far and definitely have a chance to win the MAC Championship,” Thomas said.

“We have hit a lot of road bumps so far but we can overcome it.”

Thomas admitted getting moved into the starting lineup was unexpected, but knows not to take any moments for granted.

“I always knew that if I just worked hard that it would pay off in the end,” Thomas said. “I always try to stay level-headed and humble.”

To remain level-headed, Thomas references a saying about success his father instilled into his head since he was young.

“One of my dad’s favorite saying is ‘How are you going to handle success,’” Thomas said. “Every time I think about what he said, I know to not get too wrapped up in a moment because it can be taken away quickly.”