SHERIDAN — Where do you want to be in five years?
If you paid close attention to the NCAA selection show Sunday, you might have seen a familiar face.
Among the quick clips of teams packed around couches in front of televisions, waiting for their names to be called, there’s sometimes a Sheridan County kid or two. The Press last year talked to Colby Wollenman at Michigan State, and this year one lanky, towering Sheridan High School grad could be seen screaming at the TV, as his school punched its ticket.
Tim Thomas, a 2007 graduate of SHS, gets March Madness up close and personal Friday. Thomas plays for The University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., which finished the season with seven straight wins and a Big West title, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Pacific, a No. 15 seed in the East, will play senior-laden Atlantic Coast Conference champion Miami, a No. 2 seed, Friday in the second round of the Big Dance.
Much like Pacific, Thomas has always been a big underdog. For those who remember him as a Bronc, the 6-foot-8-inch post player has come a long way since Sheridan.
After high school, Thomas struggled to find direction. Trying family life eventually led him to the guidance of his stepfather.
“He told me pretty much that I wasn’t doing anything with my life, so he wanted me to go to college,” Thomas said by phone Wednesday on his way to the airport in the team bus. They flew to Austin, Texas, Wednesday.
Thomas had taken a couple years off from school, but enrolled at Las Positas College, a community college in Livermore, Calif. He hoped to use his basketball frame as his ticket.
“I knew going to college, money-wise, it would be hard,” he said. “My stepdad told me to try and play basketball. I hadn’t played in a couple years so that was hard, too. My JC coach got me a big-man coach, and we worked in the summer a lot, we worked six days a week over the two years I was there, and I got a scholarship to Pacific.”
In high school, Thomas was barely 200 pounds. He worked hard and packed on muscle, growing to 220 for JUCO ball and eventually to about 230, where he is now.
“It was obvious that the competition was going to be a lot heavier, I was going to be going against guys my size,” Thomas laughed.
At SHS, he towered over most of the competition across Wyoming. Even so, he worked to grow into his size, a coach’s dream, and its potential, trying to develop his play around the rim from awkward tall kid to inside post presence.
Five years later, he has reached the Division 1 level. Higher jumping ability, low-post moves, pump-fakes and his go-tos — a right-handed hook and a fadeaway jumper — all new in his arsenal.
Plus, Thomas is doing well in school, majoring in communications with a minor in public relations.
“Coming here, my stepdad really liked the school,” he explained. “The head coach here has been known for having 96.4 percent grad rate. He really helps us out a lot here. It’s pretty much, if you have a bad grade, you get held out of practice.”
Thomas’ court time has been limited by nagging knee and back injuries this year, something, when asked about, he played down as common obstacles in the season’s long grind.
After averaging 9.9 points and 6.1 rebounds during his final year at Las Positas, in limited time this year, he averaged 2.4 points and 1.4 rebounds in 19 games.
On his highlight reel for D1 hoops fans? Thomas scored against No. 1 seed Gonzaga back on Dec. 1, and has played with Pacific against tournament teams like St. Mary’s and California this season. Thomas was 3-4 from the field with eight points against Cal.
Thomas is a junior with another year of eligibility next year at Pacific, but first they’ll play Miami.
“It’s going to be tough,” Thomas said. “They’re a well-developed basketball team and they start five seniors. They’re obviously ACC champs, it’s going to be tough. But, out of all the second seeded teams, our coach has told us that Miami’s our best matchup.”
Miami is experienced with wins over ACC powerhouses like Duke, but the key in the tourney to knocking off a giant? Shooting the 3-ball — something Pacific does at a 38 percent rate.
Pacific (22-12) will play Miami (27-6) at 12:10 p.m. Friday on TNT.