Whitfield’s Thomas top 1,000-point plateau in high school boys basketball
By: Warren Mayes
It took scoring more than 500 points in his senior season but Whitfield’s Justin Thomas joined the 1,000-point club.
“It’s quite a accomplishment to reach 1,000 points,” said Thomas, who finished his Whitfield basketball career with 1,081 points. “When I started at Whitfield, I never thought I would be a part the alumni’s that scored 1,000 points but I worked hard during and sometimes after practice and I believe it paid off.”
The 6-foot-4 guard finished his senior season with 519 points. He averaged 20.8 for the Warriors, whose season ended with a 54-52 loss to Lutheran St. Peters in district play.
Whitfield coach Mike Potsou said Thomas accomplished reaching the milestone despite drawing attention from the Warriors’ opponents. This year, Thomas was the focal point of the Whitfield offense.
“Each night, Justin had a target on his back as the person teams had to stop,” Potsou said. “He would see several double teams during every game. Sometimes they would double him on the catch, his first dribble, or sometimes as soon as he touched the ball no matter where he was on the court.
“But each night he found different ways to score. Often times that was dictated by whom was guarding him and what that defensive player’s strengths and weakness were.”
To his surprise, Thomas was unaware he achieved the feat.
“At our pep assembly, Coach P told me that I had scored over 1,000 points,” Thomas said. “It was a shocker when he told me because it was so unexpected.”
His teammates were happy for him topping 1,000 points. Thomas credited them with helping him reach the milestone.
“Most of my teammates were showing me a lot of support and they felt that I work day in and day out,” Thomas said. “Many of them congratulated me when we found out but all of my teammates, from when I was a freshman to now, knows that I couldn’t have made this accomplishment without them.”
This year, the Warriors needed production from Thomas, who was a captain.
“He grew into that role as the season progressed,” Potsou said. “Being ‘The Guy’ was a different role for him this season. Once he became comfortable being the focal point of the opposition’s defense every game, Justin was able to be a more confident leader.
“As Justin displayed his non-verbal confidence, the rest of the team believed that no matter the situation we could possibly win. They felt this way because at any moment Justin could rattle off a flurry of jumpers in a matter of seconds.”
Shooting and scoring have been Thomas’ calling cards during his tenure at Whitfield.
“I always knew I had the ability to score the ball however I chose to score,” Thomas said. “My goal was to get my team out of districts and defeat a lot of good teams and, if I have to score a lot of points to lift my team past other school, I would do that. I just try to do everything in my control to put my team in the best possible shape to win basketball games.”
Thomas describes himself as “an athletic shooting guard.” But he doesn’t think of himself as just a shooting guard. He sees himself as a basketball player.
“I would call myself a scorer more than just a shooter,” Thomas said. “I find different ways to score and I practice, practice, practice. I am also a very unselfish player. I find my teammates, and I know where they are on the floor at all times.
“But I’m love late game situations when we need a bucket. I always tried to rise up to the challenge.”
“Although he was the point guard, we found ways for him to get touches on the wing where he was by far the most dangerous,” Potsou said. “We want to put pressure on the defense and this year, our best option to do that was to get Justin the ball on the wing off the catch. From there he could reverse pivot and exploit defenses depending upon the match-up and what the defense was giving to him.
“A lot of players have certain tendencies and can only shoot off the bounce one direction, or off a certain foot, or can only go right. But Justin was dangerous whenever he had the ball because he could score at anytime doing a number of different things going in any direction. Plus, once in the air, he possess great body control. Justin could create his shot at any time and whenever teams tried to guard him one-on-one, it usually worked to our advantage.”
With the loss in district action, Thomas’ basketball career at Whitfield is over.
“It has flown by so fast,” Thomas said. “I had a great time and I will never forget the incredible people that helped me at Whitfield. Whitfield is like my second home.”
One of the biggest moments of his four years at Whitfield came he was a freshman.
“My favorite highlight was the privilege of going to state when I was a freshman,” Thomas said. “I was around a very skilled basketball team that always pushed me to my full potential and I did the same back to them.”
That experience of being on a state team helped Thomas, Potsou said.
“Justin loves to play basketball and has put in countless hours in the gym to improve his game. As a freshman, Justin rarely saw any varsity playing time,” Potsou said. “We were a very good team at that time and it was tough for the young freshman to gain any valuable time with the caliber of players we had on the team that season.
“But he did enjoy the journey of going to the Final Four in Columbia and I believe learned a lot from our more experienced players on how to work hard and the dedication it takes to be an elite high school player. He didn’t remain on the bench long as Justin started as a sophomore until his senior year. However, Justin’s role as a sophomore and junior were much different than his senior year. As a senior, he had to put a lot on his shoulders and he embraced it without any excuses.”
He has come a long ways since he was a freshman.
“”It’s funny to think when I first started out at Whitfield, I was so scared to play in a varsity game and I was never to willing to go into a game,” Thomas said. “But now as a senior, I laugh when I think about the double team that comes every time I touch the ball.”
Potsou has been a big help to him, Thomas said.
“Coach Potsou has always been there for me no matter what. He taught me a lot about the game and help me improve in a lot of areas,” Thomas said. “But he has stuck by my side through tough games to some of my best. Coach P has also helped mature not only as a player but as a person and I am grateful to be coached by an amazing person.”
Thomas still has to decide about college.
Potsou said he will get that opportunity.
“Justin most certainly wants to continue playing basketball at the next level. It has been a goal of his to play at the collegiate level for a long time,” Potsou said. “He is currently undecided on where he will attend but we are currently exploring options for him and seeing what schools need a scoring wing. What has kept some colleges at bay is his weight. Justin is only 167 pounds.
“But, if a school takes a chance on Justin and he fills out to about 190 pounds, they will have an unbelievable player to work with for years. I would take Justin in a heartbeat. I mean, would you rather put 20 pounds on a player or teach him how to create his own shot? Justin should be a defensive nightmare by his sophomore season in college if he gains those pounds as expected.”
Whatever school gets Thomas will be getting a quality person, Potsou said.
“Justin is a super person. He has a constant smile on his face and is a supportive teammate,” Potsou said. “I was so proud of how he matured as a person and team leader for us this season. His senior year was a special time for both of us. He opened up the lines of communication, worked hard at what we asked him to do on the floor, and truly trusted his coaching staff. Additionally, he looked after the many freshman we had on the team this season and made sure they were enjoying their time at practices. He led by example and gave instruction and feedback to the underclassman during individual and team instruction.”
Last summer, during the Whitfield Youth Basketball Camp, Potsou said Thomas was one of the lead counselors.
“He took that role so seriously and was engaged with our campers from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day,” Potsou said. “He was energetic and patient during his instructions and made sure the campers all had a good time. As I watched him interact with the campers, I couldn’t have been more proud to call him one of my players. Justin is a lovable person and he has a great big heart.”
Naturally, Potsou hates to see him graduate. But he knows that is how it goes with high school athletes.
“I am going to miss having him around daily yet I am excited about what his future holds,” Potsou said. “But like with most all of our basketball alums, I am sure we will remain in contact for years to come.”