Shakayla Thomas Caps Freshman Year With USA Selection
Shakayla Thomas (Sylacauga, Ala.) was the Atlantic Coast Conference Sixth Player of the Year in 2015 after helping Florida State University to a 32-5 record and the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight.
“It was a good experience,” said the 5-foot-11 forward of her first season as a collegian. “I was a freshman at the time, and we only had like two seniors. That was the first time in a long time that (the program) had been there, and I was glad to be a part of it.”
She also was an All-ACC first-team member and ACC All-Freshman Team selection.
“In college, I have people around me that are willing to help me get better, and working me to the point where I had a great, successful freshman year,” Thomas explained. “Coming in as the underdog – maybe or maybe not – I think the accolades were from being a part of my team. They helped me get to those.”
While Thomas and Florida State enjoyed success as a team in 2014-15, topping off her successful spring by being named on May 17 as one of 12 members of the 2015 USA Basketball Women’s U19 World Championship Team was something she accomplished on her own.
The team returned on June 30 to the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for training camp.
“I’ve had every jersey, maybe, but the USA jersey is one of the big ones,” said Thomas. “I always wanted to be a part of the USA team, since I was young. Now that I’m here, I just feel like I have to take advantage of it and give what I got.”
As a high school basketball player at Sylacauga High School (Ala.), Thomas played six seasons of varsity basketball because the coaches thought she was good enough, and they were right. She started in her first season as a seventh grader and was her team’s leading scorer in all six seasons. She averaged 33.1 points per game as a senior and was named a 2014 McDonald’s All-American and the USA Today All-USA third team. She owns the Alabama girls high school basketball rebounding record (2,643) and was the sixth player to eclipse 4,000 points (4,242).
“I was the youngest, but I was the voice person,” Thomas said of her prep career. “I was young, but I had people older than me. I was the youngest on the team. I was a part of the leadership, too. I was the captain.
“I did learn a lot about leadership. You have to carry your team on your back no matter what. You can’t just leave them out in the rain. I was okay with carrying the team. “
With the USA Women’s U19 World Championship Team, Thomas only will have to carry her share of the weight, on a team comprised of some of the nation’s best players at 19 or younger.
“It is actually pretty good, playing with some good people, some good players,” Thomas said of training camp. “It makes each of us get better. We are working hard the same way the next person is.
“I’m working with good players, and they are amazing, so you try to live up to that.”
As a 5-foot-11 forward, Thomas is battling every day in practice against six players who are 6-foot-3 or taller. It does not phase Thomas, who is used to people questioning her ability based on her size.
“I just have to prove a lot of people wrong,” Thomas said. “Beat me in the post, and then I’ll show you different stuff. I can play outside and inside. I’m not flashy, but it’s more simple -- I can attack whenever I want to, against any opponent.”
Thomas said she is not entirely sure of what is expected of her on the USA U19 team, but each practice she gets closer to understanding what she can offer to the team. As she said, “It takes time.”
She also understands that rebounding is one of her strengths, as it always has been for Thomas.
“It’s just: see ball, go get ball,” Thomas shrugged. “When I was in rec leagues, rebounding was my thing. I can jump, so I might as well utilize it.”
The USA will be looking to capture a sixth-straight women’s U19 gold medal from July 18-26 in Chekhov, Russia, where the USA will face the best U19 competition that 15 countries from around the world have to offer.
The hard work ahead does not intimidate Thomas, who said it is one of the things she loves about basketball.
“People might be asleep, and I will be up late nights in the gym,” Thomas said. “It’s nothing. I just want to get better as a person and as a player.”
You can follow Thomas and the entire USA U19 Women throughout their journey on Twitter at #USABwu19.
USA vs. Spain • July 18 @ 1:15 p.m. EDT (live online: YouTube.com/FIBA)
USA vs. China • July 19 @ 1:15 p.m. EDT (live online: YouTube.com/FIBA)
USA vs. Egypt • July 21 @ 1:15 p.m. EDT (live online: YouTube.com/FIBA)
Round of 16 TBD • July 22
Quarterfinals TBD • July 24
Semifinals TBD • July 25
Finals TBD • July 26