Matt Thomas doesn’t make things bigger than they need to be.
The Onalaska High School graduate fully understands the importance of an opportunity that begins Friday in Las Vegas.
But he is neither anxious nor overwhelmed when discussing the NBA Summer League and his participation in it with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Thomas spoke calmly between practice sessions in Los Angeles on Wednesday about how to take advantage of the five games — or more if they win playoff matchups — the Lakers will play while assessing talent for next season’s roster.
If Thomas is feeling any pressure, it’s hard to find.
“Yeah, there is competition (among players), but the common goal is to go there and win,” the 6-foot-5 guard said. “Around half of the roster is already signed with the team, and the other half is just working to make the roster.”
The Lakers enter the summer as the favorite to win. The league format is a three-game schedule Friday through Tuesday. A seeded playoff format follows until a champion is crowned on July 17.
Thomas and Aquinas graduate Bronson Koenig, who combined drew more than 5,000 people to the La Crosse Center when facing each other twice as high school seniors, are both participating and giving the league a Coulee Region flavor for the first time.
Koenig will play for the Milwaukee Bucks, who do not play the Lakers in scheduled games at the Thomas and Mack Center and Cox Pavilion.
They will, however, open the schedule by playing back-to-back games at Thomas and Mack. Koenig and Bucks play Cleveland at 5:30 p.m., and Thomas and Lakers play the Los Angeles Clippers at 7:30 p.m.
Thomas earned his spot on the Lakers with a strong pre-draft workout. He struck an agreement the day after the draft to play with the Toronto Raptors this summer before shifting to the Lakers a week later.
“It just came down to being in the best situation for me,” Thomas said.
Lonzo Ball, Vander Blue and Alec Brown are also on the Lakers’ roster. Ball played at UCLA and was the second pick in the draft, while Blue played at Madison Memorial High School and Marquette University. The 7-foot-1 Brown is a Winona Senior High graduate and played at UW-Green Bay.
Thomas arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday and had two practices with his new teammates on Monday before getting Tuesday off to celebrate the Fourth of July. The team was back at it for two practices — two-hour workouts — on Wednesday.
“It’s a lot of drill work,” Thomas said. “One thing I’ve noticed is that it’s a lot like practices when I played for Coach (Fred) Hoiberg (for two seasons at Iowa State).
“The concepts and terminology he used is like what we are using now, so I’m familiar with it.”
Thomas will attempt to stand out from his peers over the next 10 days, and he will have to shoot well to do that. Thomas ranked sixth nationally by making 89 of 200 attempts from the 3-point line (44.5 percent) as a senior.
That ability was likely on display when Thomas worked out for the Lakers before the June 22 draft.
“I felt like I played pretty well,” said Thomas, who was a Kobe Bryant and Lakers fan since he started watching the NBA in 2000. “I talked to Magic (Johnson) after it was done, and he talked about liking my feel for the game and the way I played the game.”
Yes, he means the Hall of Famer who helped the Lakers win five NBA championships in the 1980s. The same one who won an NCAA championship with Michigan State in 1979.
“That was kind of surreal,” Thomas said of talking to Johnson. “Having one-on-one time to talk to somebody like that about your game is pretty incredible.”