Updated: May 15
Lefty point guard Dedan Thomas, Jr., ranked top-25 in the class of 2024 out of Liberty High School (NV), has committed to UNLV over Arizona, Florida, Gonzaga, Houston, and UCLA, amongst additional high major programs. In November, he teased the UNLV faithful with a unique social media post from his visit, and six months later to the day, Mother’s Day 2023, he made it official — publicly announcing his commitment to Coach Kevin Kruger and the Runnin’ Rebels.
The 6’1” pure PG who led his team on a historic march to the Nevada 5A state title in 2022 followed up his legendary sophomore season by winning Nevada’s 2022-23 Gatorade State Player of the Year as a junior, with season averages of 22.8 points, 5.1 assists, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game.
Whether he remains in the 2024 class or decides to begin his college career early as a member of the 2023 class (both options are still in play), expect Thomas, Jr. to make an immediate impact in the Mountain West Conference, as he is one of the most cerebral, mature, skilled playmakers we’ve ever come across for someone his age.
Thomas, Jr. spoke with Pro Insight’s Matt McKay about his decision:
Pro Insight: Today is the big day! Picking Mother’s Day for your announcement was obviously very intentional. For our audience, do you mind sharing a bit about your supporting cast, starting with Mom?
Dedan Thomas, Jr: My mom, I mean, she’s all behind the scenes, so no one really understands how much she helps me, mentally and physically. She’s like my best friend. We’re always laughing together and joking together. But she is always hard on me, just cause I know she loves me and she wants what’s best for me. She’s actually had the biggest impact on me, of all my supporters.
My dad, of course, my best friend. I mean I’m “Jr.,” so we’re super tight — we’ve always been super tight. We’re always in the gym together, always having fun and laughing together. It’s just great to have a dad like him, especially someone who’s been through this process.
And then of course my siblings. They push me every day to be better. I mean, I want to be better for them, too, so they can have a good big brother to look up to and just a good role model to look up to.
PI: Specifically with mom serving as such a big confidant — what would you say has been her best advice or primary words of encouragement for you throughout the recruiting process?
DT: We’ve always lived by this saying — she started it — you’ll notice in some of my posts, I’ll put a little hashtag: #DTBG, dare to be great, and she’s always said that to me, cause she knows how great of a basketball player I want to be one day — so she’s always told me that.
PI: It’s safe to say you come from a basketball family with some strong lineage on the court. Vegas Basketball Royalty, some might say. You already touched on it, but can you talk a little bit more about your relationship with your Dad and his role in helping get you where you are today?
DT: He’s done a really good job of managing being a coach / trainer and then being dad. Like, he’s had a great balance of doing that. So we’ve always been able to keep a great balance of being father and son and then coach and player. He’s just done a great job with that, and then just teaching me how to play the game, see the game of basketball, and teaching me all the tricks, shortcuts, and all the reads while we’re in the gym. Even when we’re at home, we’re always watching basketball, always talking about basketball. So, yeah, he’s just been a really great person to have by my side throughout this whole process.
PI: Having been your longtime coach and trainer — what do you find he preaches most often to you on the court about your game?
DT: In our workouts, he’s really good at explaining why we do certain drills, cause the drills we do in workouts translate to games. He knows me and my brother’s (Tyus) games really well — he knows what kind of situations we’re going to be facing in a game, so he’s just really good at putting us in game-like situations in workouts…and he just explains to us why we do each drill, as well as why we make the reads we make during those drills.
PI: You've been highly sought after by some elite programs for quite some time and in a way, this chapter closes, today. You must feel excited and relieved. Can you briefly share a bit of what this recruiting journey has looked like, from your first offer until decision day?
DT: I mean, a year ago today I didn’t think it would “blow up,” like this, how it is now. I mean, it’s great to have all this love from all of these colleges and it’s just been a really great process, building relationships with special people from different schools and getting to know people and stuff like that. So it’s just been a great process — especially talking to some of the best coaches in the world and the country — just building relationships with them and learning from them. So it was great to go through.
PI: Let’s get to it — where will you be attending college?
DT: Well, you know…I know I’m turning down some pretty big schools and really good schools, but I’ll be staying home and attending UNLV.
PI: Congratulations! What ultimately gave UNLV the edge?
DT: It was just a heart thing. It was a me thing…cause, I just got a feeling there. A special feeling in my heart, that it was where I needed to be and where I belong. I didn’t get that at other schools, so that was the place that I felt I most belonged.
PI: What was their most consistent message to you throughout your recruitment?
DT: Coach Barret Peery, every time he saw me, he was like “all we need is a quarterback,” and what he means by that is a point guard, and that’s what I am. So I feel like that position has always been open, there for me. So I just feel like it’s the right situation to step into.
PI: What was the staff’s reaction upon hearing the news?
DT: They were very excited. Yeah, they were really excited.
PI: Have you been able to form some relationships with any of the current players on the roster, yet?
DT: Yep. Jalen Hill, of course, a Las Vegas kid. I’ve known him since I was little. Always watched him play, went to their high school games, so yeah. And then I’ve talked to him a little bit, while he was here. And just talking to him about UNLV and stuff and what he was going to do — and ultimately he chose to come back, so I already have a good relationship with him.
PI: I would imagine the UNLV Men’s Basketball program has been a mainstay in your life from basically day one — can you talk about that a little bit? Over the years, what are your most memorable moments that involve the Runnin’ Rebels?
DT: Man, it’s been a long time. When I was little, I would always just be there and the place was jumpin’. Crowds were full and it was exciting to be there. Even if they were losing games, people were still there. So it was just an exciting atmosphere to be in and hopefully I/we can bring that back to the city.
PI: What are the earliest teams you remember specifically following closely?
DT: When Christian Wood was here (2013-15).
PI: Another pertinent topic surrounding your recruitment as of late — will you be joining the program as a member of 2023 or staying in 2024?
DT: That’s still to be determined. We’re just trying to get through the commitment process, now we have to talk about re-classifying or not, if that’s a good idea. So that’s just something to talk about with my family.
PI: Having gotten to know you over the past 3+ years, it’s evident that you work and prepare at a level well beyond your age. Between your training regimen, strict diet and overall approach to holistic development, when did it first cross your mind that getting to campus early was an option to even consider?
DT: When schools presented me the opportunity — that’s when I started thinking about if I should do that. Most of my top schools offered the option to enroll early, so that’s why I started taking it into consideration.
PI: If you opt to stay in 2024, do you feel like you have any unfinished business at the high school level that you’d still like to accomplish?
DT: I feel like I’ve accomplished all my goals that I have listed in my phone. If I were to do that, I’d probably just focus on having fun senior year. Just enjoying it.
PI: Regardless of when that date is, what’s your focus between now and arriving on campus?
DT: I feel like from the shoulders up, I’m definitely college-ready, but from the shoulders down, I think I need to get my body better and stronger and more college-ready. I know those guys are a lot stronger, faster and quicker. So I need to get my body ready for that.
PI: How do you envision your role within the UNLV program?
DT: Just doing whatever it takes to win, whatever the coaches need me to do I’ll do it, just to win.
PI: What type of goals have you set for yourself at the college level?
DT: Obviously during my college career I want to try and win a National Championship, of course. Win a conference championship and all that. Just win as much as possible — that’s all. No self-accolades, yet. I’m just focused on winning as many games as possible.
PI: What’s your message to Runnin’ Rebels fans who are beyond thrilled to hear about your commitment?
DT: I’m coming home! That’s it. I’m here to rock.
PI: Get that popcorn NIL deal, yet?
DT: That is still something we do need to talk about (laughs). I would love to have some type of popcorn NIL deal.
PI: Lastly, five years from now, what does life look like for DJ Thomas?
DT: Being in the NBA. Or being a pro. That’s it, just trying to be a professional. That’s it.