Jalen Thomas ready to shine in year two under Rob Lanier

Detroit native, Jalen Thomas, has come a long way from troubled neighborhoods to the perks of being a division 1 athlete. Photo Submitted by GSU Athletics

For Jalen Thomas, basketball seemed like destiny from the start, as both his father and grandfather played college basketball. The sophomore forward became the second highest-ranked recruit to sign to Georgia State after an illustrious high school career, featuring a Michigan championship, two final four appearances and numerous awards.

When Thomas was asked about his inspiration to play basketball, he pointed to one special person in his life and a special goal.

“I was always pretty tall and wanted to follow my father’s footsteps,” Thomas said. “I want to be the first in my family to make it to the NBA.”

During his freshman year, Thomas started in seven of the 32 games he played, averaging six points, three rebounds and a block in 17 minutes. But the numbers did not come easy, as he found out quickly.

“In high school, guys weren’t really my size. There were a few guys my size, but the competition isn’t like college, where everybody is pretty good,” Thomas said. “Guys are bigger, stronger [and] faster. The workouts are harder. The practices are longer.”

Being a high school athlete is an extracurricular activity, but collegiate athletes must treat their sport as a full-time job.

In his first start against the Dartmouth Big Green, Thomas scored seven points and grabbed six rebounds in 22 minutes.

“I felt overwhelmed. My coaches told me before the game that I would be starting. I had so many emotions when I found out the news,” Thomas said. “It became overwhelming, but I was ready to get out there and help the team win.”

As a top-250 ranked player in the country coming out of high school, Thomas felt pressure to make an immediate difference for a collegiate basketball program. 

“I definitely did [feel pressure], but my teammates and coaches helped me get comfortable, and being ranked, I definitely wanted to come in and make a difference immediately,” Thomas said. 

Heading into the 2020-21 season, Thomas plans to take a leadership role on the team.

“Definitely getting that experience last year, knowing what it takes to make a difference, I’m definitely going to be more vocal on the court and not let my emotions show,” Thomas said.

Thomas played against many big men with different play styles last year as a regular starter for the Panthers. With that experience under his belt, he understands what facets of his game must develop to make the jump in year two.

“I’ve always had the ability to shoot but wasn’t really able to show it last year. I’ve been working on my shot over the summer and hope to shoot a couple of threes in the game this year,” Thomas said.

With the way the big man is evolving in basketball, one who has the skill set of a wing player seems to be essential in modern basketball.

“I also need to work on my perimeter game, become more of a wing-oriented player with the passing and ball-handling aspects of my game to help me at that next level,” Thomas said.

Most underclassmen lack Thomas’ passion for the game. He balances being humble with self-confidence to demonstrate his maturity on the court. With numerous weapons on his team, he should have every opportunity as the Panthers return to action.