Thomas declares himself eligible for draft
By ANDREW SOUKUP
With a broad grin on his face and his parents proudly looking on, Chris Thomas declared May 5 he would forego his final two years of college eligibility and enter the NBA Draft.
But the 6-foot-1 guard left the door ajar for a possible return to the Irish for his junior season.
"This has long been a dream of mine," Thomas said. "I'm excited at the prospects and am glad the opportunity has come so fast."
Thomas, who said he has not hired an agent and therefore still has college eligibility, has until June 19 to withdraw his name from the draft. The six weeks between his declaration and the deadline will be spent evaluating where Thomas could be drafted on June 26.
If, after participating in individual workouts for a handful of teams, Thomas is projected as a top-20 pick, the point guard said his name would remain in the draft. If it is lower, he said he would most likely return to Notre Dame.
"Do I want to coach this guy next year? Heck yeah," Irish coach Mike Brey said. "But I'm not going to put any guilt trips on this young man. … We owe it to him to get him the right info."
Before his sophomore season started, Thomas said he was "definitely" going to be at Notre Dame for four years. He maintained throughout the season that he wasn't considering the NBA Draft — "It would take away from my team," he said — but when the Irish lost to Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen, Brey said he was going to help Thomas explore his draft options.
So Brey, Thomas' parents and Thomas buckled down to evaluate the guard's draft potential. Thomas also spoke with his friend Jared Jeffries, a former Indiana player who left after his sophomore year and was drafted by the Washington Wizards, to glean more information about the draft process and life in the NBA.
In the end, Thomas, who averaged 18.7 points and 6.9 assists a game last season and earned All-American honorable mention honors, decided to declare based on the success the Irish enjoyed last season.
"I owe it to myself to explore my options in order to see what I could do. I've done my share of work to get to this point," Thomas said. "Playing in the NBA is never a sure thing, and there's no guarantee I might have this chance after my junior or senior year."
Thomas is the second Irish player in three years to declare early for the NBA Draft. Troy Murphy left early after his junior year — Brey's first year with the Irish — and was drafted 14th by the Golden State Warriors.
If Thomas stays in the draft, Notre Dame would be one of only a handful of schools with a chance to have three first-round picks in as many years. Last year, Ryan Humphrey was drafted 19th overall by the Utah Jazz and now plays for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Thomas had until May 11 to enter his name for the draft. In addition to working out for individual teams, Thomas could also participate in a pre-draft camp the first week of June in Chicago, where a new NCAA rule change stipulates that players can play in pre-draft workouts without having to sit out any games if they return to college.
However, Brey said Thomas is leaning away from playing in Chicago and is instead hoping to gauge his stock via individual workouts with teams. And Thomas is looking at the example set by Humphrey, who ended his college career projected as a second-round pick but boosted his stock tremendously via individual workouts.
For now, Brey will remain one of Thomas' primary advisers and added that he expects to start hearing from NBA teams now that Thomas has made a public decision. And instead of trying to convince his star guard to stay, Brey said his role as a coach is to make sure Thomas makes the best possible decision.
"My feeling is if you're going to run a program in this era, then you have to help your players," Brey said. "If the right thing is to go in a month, I will be the first in line to shake his hand."
All Sports Stories for Friday, July 11, 2003