One of the first teams that LSU freshman guard Cam Thomas had an individual workout with in the NBA draft process was the Brooklyn Nets.
“They loved me and I loved their vibe,” Thomas said.
The Nets, loaded with a backcourt featuring future Hall of Famers Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving , were ecstatic when Thomas was still available for them to choose him No. 27 overall in the first round of Thursday’s NBA draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“I look at a guy like Cam who never shied away from the moment, never shied away from the shot,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said. “Supreme confidence, believes in his shot, believes in his shot-making ability and the tireless worker that he is. When a guy’s not settling for anything, that’s really important.
“He has an elite skill. You watch him play, you watch him find his shot, create his shot, that’s at a very, very high level. For him to learn from maybe three of the greatest scorers the league has will be great for him. The other part of it is he’s fearless. He’s not afraid. We’re looking for guys that are competitive, have that edge to them and a chip on their shoulder.
Thomas was just as thrilled that the Nets chose him.
“I felt like everything was in place,” Thomas said in a press conference afterwards. “I loved them from the get-go just from that one workout I had with them. We had an interview with them about a week ago. All our personalities connected. With me, watching them so much this year, with James Harden being my favorite player, with me watching Kyrie and how skilled he is, Kevin Durant, with me to come in, learn from those guys and scoring the ball, it’s a match made in heaven. I can’t wait to play with some of my favorite players, so that’s crazy.”
Tigers’ All-SEC first-team sophomore forward Trendon Watford and junior All-SEC second-team guard Javonte Smart were not chosen in the two-round, 60-pick draft. But ESPN sources said Watford planned to sign a two-way free agent deal with the Portland Trail Blazers and Smart is signing as a free agent with the Miami Heat.
Thomas was the sixth of seven SEC players drafted in the first round, the most ever by the league. With the SEC’s NBA first-rounder haul, it meant the league had a combined 27 first-round 2021 draft picks in the four major pro leagues including the NFL (12), major league baseball (4) and WNBA (4).
The other SEC first-rounders were Alabama guard Joshua Primo (No.. 12 by San Antonio), Arkansas’ Moses Moody (No. 14 by Golden State), Florida’s Tre Mann (No. 18 by Oklahoma City), Tennessee’s Keon Johnson (No. 21 by New York traded to Los Angeles Clippers), Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson (No. 22 by Los Angeles Lakers, traded to Indiana) and Tennessee’s Jaden Springer (No. 28 by Philadelphia).
Thomas came to LSU from Chesapeake, Virginia with the reputation as a volume scorer and he didn’t disappoint.
He led all NCAA D1 freshmen in scoring and his scoring average was the fourth-highest scoring average for a first-year LSU player. It’s only topped by Pete Maravich as a sophomore in 1967-68 (43.8), Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf as a freshman in 1988-89 (30.2) and Bob Pettit as a sophomore in 1951-52 (25.5).
Thomas finished with the 13th highest scoring average by an LSU player in its history. His 22 games over 20 points was the most by a Division I freshman in 2020-21 and his 16 games of 25 points or more for the season are the most by an SEC freshman in the one-and-done era (since 2006).
He averaged 23.1 points in 17 SEC games and 28.5 points in his two NCAA Tournament games.
Thomas was named All-SEC first team and to the SEC all-tournament team. He was the USA Today SEC Newcomer of the Year and a second team All-America as selected by the paper. He was an honorable mention A-A selection by the Associated Press and a Collegeinsider.com Kyle Macy Freshman All-America.
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas didn’t waste words describing Thomas’ strength as he was drafted.
“The dude is a shooter,” Bilas said on air. “He’s got a great step-back. That’s really his go-to move. He can spin, he can go into the mid-post, shoots off the bounce. He creates for himself with supreme confidence. He’s unafraid to take on any challenge on the offensive end.”
Bobby Marks, one of ESPN’s NBA draft analysts, predicted after Thomas was drafted that he will play in the Rising Stars rookie game at the 2022 NBA All-Star weekend.
“He’s that good. . .he’s going to be the guy that can get you points off the bench,” Marks said.
Thomas, who led the SEC last season averaging 23 points per game, had a green light to shoot from anywhere on the court. He may not get as many shots since Harden, Durant and Irving all take turns dominating the ball.
“Hoopers figure it out, man,” Thomas said. “You can never have too much scoring. I feel like all four of us are hoopers and were going to figure it out. I’m going to get my shots and of course, they’re going to get their shots. I have to make the most of my shots. I have to come in with a great mindset.”
Even before his name was called Thursday night, Thomas certainly dressed like a first-rounder. He paid tribute to late Lakers legend Kobe Bryant with a custom red velvet suit jacket by Indochino.
The inside of Thomas’ personalized suit included a portrait of Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January 2020, walking into the Lakers locker room as purple lights shined down on him. His suit jacket also featured Bryant’s Mamba symbol, with his mantra “Mamba Mentality” written in yellow.
Other details in his Thomas’ suit lining were Bryant’s No. 8 Lakers jersey, the Larry O’Brien championship trophy and gold medals. Thomas had the words, “Let your light shine” stitched into the left side of his suit.
Thomas believes he couldn’t have ended up in a better situation to start his pro career.
“I feel like the team I’m going to is a championship level team, going to be winning games and playing for something,” Thomas said. “I feel that’s going to help me out in my rookie year to just have all that experience.”