Matt Thomas wakes up early every morning with the intention of being a better basketball player than he was when he went to sleep the night before.
Improvement in the sport he loves and in the field he intends to make his profession has always been a strong focus.
It didn’t matter if he was playing at the YMCA as a kid or for Onalaska High School as a teenager or for Iowa State University the last four years. Thomas has always tried to become as good of a basketball player as he could possibly be.
But these days are a little different.
The required effort to balance basketball with academics — at whatever level — is over. Focus was scrapped in favor of tunnel vision when Thomas arrived in Scottsdale, Ariz., on May 7.
The most important window of opportunity is here for the 22-year-old sharpshooter who helped the Hilltoppers win a WIAA Division 2 state championship before helping the Cyclones qualify for four NCAA tournaments.
“I’m excited to see what the next step is,” Thomas said. “There is no (career) stability and no idea what’s coming.”
The unknown will materialize soon enough. What Thomas is doing now will help shape the opportunity for which he has awaited the last decade or more.
He is going to be a professional basketball player. All that is left to determine is the level at which he will play.
So Thomas wakes up each day at 7:30 a.m. and begins the routine prepared for him in a camp of sorts organized by Octagon Basketball out of Chicago. That’s the organization Thomas selected — through a process he compared to college recruitment — for representation.
“There are a lot of guys here with the same agency,” Thomas said. “There are probably six or eight here consistently, but people come and go.”
Thomas isn’t going anywhere.
He arrived in Scottsdale after graduating from Iowa State with a degree in business management. Yes, despite the additional obligations, tremendous time commitment and distractions of playing Division I basketball, Thomas graduated in four years.
Aquinas High School graduate Bronson Koenig did the same thing at Wisconsin, meaning neither has the completion of a degree hanging over his head while pursuing the chance he’s wanted since shooting baskets as a youngster in the Coulee Region.
“I knew I wanted to be done and would be done in four years,” Thomas said. “I took summer classes and balanced them with my workouts.
“I only had 21 credits to take as a senior (12 first semester, 9 second), so it was a pretty light year for me academically. That allowed me to lock into basketball as much as I could.”
He mentioned possible careers in coaching or the business side of sports, but those things will wait.
Rehabilitation from a scope (surgical procedure) for bone spurs in both ankles has him a little behind schedule, but Thomas is confident he will be at 100 percent before Octagon hosts a pro day for scouts on June 1.
Core workouts start after breakfast, and he spends the last couple of morning hours on the basketball court. Lunch is followed by lifting and stretching programs before an ice bath or hot and cold treatments end the day at 3:30 or 4 p.m.
“We get to relax and enjoy the weather after that,” Thomas said. “But we’re pretty tired and run down by that point.”
Thomas said that every NBA team will be represented at the June 1 pro day. That’s where he will have to hammer home his No. 1 asset of shooting the ball.
The 6-foot-4 guard made 254 3-pointers and passed Aquinas grad Scott Christopherson (198) for second place in Iowa State history. He averaged 12.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists while making 44.5 percent of his 3-point attempts as a senior.
“I have to play to my biggest strength, and I spend hours in the gym working on my shot; I always have,” said Thomas, who shot 40.1 percent from the 3-point line during his Iowa State career. “It’s no secret that’s what will get me paid to play this game. I can do other things, but I have to show that I can shoot the ball at a high level.”
Will that be enough for a chance in the NBA or is Thomas likely headed overseas for the opportunity to build a reputation? Probably the latter, but it is hardly a bad option.
“I want to play on the highest level, which is the NBA,” said Thomas, who is in the planning stage for hosting a basketball camp locally in late July or early August. “With my situation, that will take some luck, and I’d have to catch the right eye with what I do.
“There are things I can do that every NBA team needs. I’m open to going overseas, and that would be fun if the situation is right to do what I love.
“I want to play in the NBA, but seeing another country and another culture up close would be an awesome experience.”
“I’m excited to see what the next step is. There is no (career) stability and no idea what’s coming.” Matt Thomas, Onalaska native and Iowa State grad