Recruiting rundown: Chris Thomas on unconventional path

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It’s not hyperbole to say that 6-5 guard Chris Thomas is one of the largest basketball talents to come out of Denver, Colo., in at least a decade. The lengthy athlete has unbelievable bounce, a flair for making a remarkable play, and a defense-stretching long-range shooting ability. Thomas is all but unstoppable in transition due to his fiery burst. All of those traits put Thomas, a high school junior as of last week, as comfortably among the top-10 most talented players in the 2013 class.

The flip side of Thomas was that he never actually showcased his talents in the Mile High City as a high schooler, as he attended but never played at Montbello (Colo.) as the first of several stops prior to his recent decision. His route, in terms of schools attended, includes stops in Maryland and Arizona, until he arrived at South Kent School (Conn.) at the start of this school year. Also, Thomas may have led last summer’s circuit in technical fouls and verbal outbursts during games, if such statistics were ever kept.

After reports went out last week that Thomas had left South Kent School, he was expected to turn up at a prep school in North Carolina. That didn’t happen, and now Thomas has left high school basketball and enrolled at Chipola JC (Fla.), a strong junior college basketball program. Thomas was a member of the 2012 class prior to reclassifying to the 2013 class, so the move isn’t as drastic as it may sound. Then again, with a mid-year enrollee, Jarnell Stokes, excelling for Tennessee, this has clearly been an interesting and in some ways unprecedented time in the world of college basketball recruiting.

Recent NCAA crackdowns on prep schools and fly-by-night basketball academies have closed some past loopholes that a well-traveled player like Thomas potentially could have exploited, and the chance of student-athletes making up for lost time in the classroom has greatly diminished from what could have occurred in the past.

After trying a variety of academic options, junior college seems unconventional but a potentially good option for a player who faced significant eligibility challenges. Thomas is expected to be solely a student for this term at Chipola JC, and begin as a member of the basketball team for the 2012-2013 season. New NCAA rules require posting a 2.5 GPA in order to be eligible as a junior college transfer, according to legislation passed in October.

There is another option to monitor, though.

Assuming Thomas can harness his massive talent level, he would be one year removed from the graduation date of his original high school class after his first season at Chipola JC. At that point, he could potentially consider the option of professional basketball. Chris Thomas has the game and physical gifts of an NBA shooting guard, but other departments of his development lag far behind. If he can get it together at Chipola, Thomas may eventually harness his world of potential. For what it’s worth, Thomas was at one time considered a lock to go to Arizona, and later considered schools such as Kentucky, Xavier, and others.

Amile Jefferson decision coming soon, is Duke making up lost ground?
Amile Jefferson of Friends Central (Penn.) is one of only a few prizes left among frontcourt stars in the 2012 class. A college decision could come in the next week or so, according to his father, Malcolm Musgrove, who told Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog.com that regarding his son’s decision, “I’m thinking by the end of January he will know.”

While on the surface, the top-25 prospect’s list includes Duke, NC State, Ohio State, Kentucky and Villanova, it is Duke that is gaining the most buzz among prognosticators. The Blue Devils are trying to add a quality frontline player alongside their sole early signing period score, Texas shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon.

At this point, the 6-8 forward seems to be most strongly considering Triangle rivals Duke and NC State, and would be a welcome addition for either program. Duke is putting on the full court pressure, with Coach K making an appearance at a recent game. Still, it remains to be seen if NC State can break through for an amazing fourth top-100 player in coach Mark Gottfried’s first recruiting class at the school.

Expected 2013 pledge Derek Willis comes through for Kentucky
In this space last week, the “smart money” was placed on 6-9 power forward Derek Willis, a high school junior from Bullitt East (Ky.) committing to the Wildcats as their first pledge in the 2013 class, and that came through, as expected.

While Kentucky is far from done in the 2012 recruiting cycle, and is expected to land multiple prospects going forward, Willis is a solid start to the 2013 class as a top-50 prospect in his own right. He’s a one-time Purdue recruit that was said to have seriously considered the Boilermakers the second time around, before going with Kentucky.

During his press conference, Willis cited a “great relationship” with Kentucky coach John Calipari as a reason for picking the Wildcats. He’s a face up power forward that can shoot and stretch defenses. His skill level is solid, but he needs physical maturation to make an impact as a freshman in two years.

DePaul adds “Nugget” as third recruit for next year
After a weekend official visit to campus, multiple outlets are reporting that Green Valley (Nev.) guard Durrell “Nugget” McDonald has committed to join the Blue Demons for next year. McDonald is a high-scoring, slender backcourt prospect capable of playing in either guard slot. McDonald hails from the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nev., so he’ll have to adapt to a climate change in college.

McDonald is the third member of DePaul’s recruiting class for next season. He joins undersized, but effective, forward DeJuan Marrero and shooting specialist wing Jodan Price. Given the late stage in the recruiting cycle, McDonald could be a solid addition for DePaul. His athleticism and versatility gives DePaul hopes for solid upside.

Kellon Hassenstab runs Hoopniks.com. Follow him on Twitter @hoopniks.