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WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament - Onalaska

Onalaska's Matt Thomas holds up a single finger to celebrate the team's 55-38 WIAA Div. 2 championship win over Kaukauna on Saturday, March 17, 2012, at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. Thomas ended the game with 30 of the teams 55 points. (Rory O'Driscoll/La Crosse Tribune)

Loyalty is a pretty important factor in life decisions that Matt Thomas makes.

After narrowing his college decision from more than 10 to two on Monday, the Onalaska High School senior-to-be was left with a couple of pretty loyal suitors.

That’s when location entered the discussion.

The fact that Iowa State University was in the recruiting picture and that is is just a few hours away from Onalaska may have led to the gut decision Thomas made to make a verbal commitment to the Cyclones on Thursday afternoon.

“I knew I couldn’t go wrong with either one of them,” Thomas said of ISU and Virginia. “It came down to distance because I want my family to be able to watch me play.

“But Iowa State has been recruiting me since Day 1, and that was important, too. I feel like I have really good relationships with (the coaches).”

The 6-foot-4 Thomas, who has carved out a reputation as one of the state’s purest shooters, showed that he is much more than that during his junior season.

He averaged 21.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.1 assists as the Hilltoppers went 27-1 and won MVC and WIAA Division 2 state championships.

Thomas, who was named to the AP All-State first team, was hardly a straight jump-shooter and showed more and more his ability to get the basket off the dribble.

He also made 46.8 percent of his 3-point attempts — Thomas was 59-for-116 — and 56.5 percent of his shots from the floor.

By cutting his list to Iowa State and Virginia, Thomas knew he’d get the chance to play for a coach who made his living as a shooter in the NBA.

Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg and Virginia’s Tony Bennett were fantastic shooters in their playing days and, likely, excellent potential mentors for Thomas.

They are also both in the position to allow Thomas, whose offer list included Wisconsin, Marquette, Minnesota and others, the chance to compete for significant playing time after he graduates from Onalaska next year.

“I definitely wanted to go somewhere where I would get an opportunity to earn a spot,” said Thomas, who had one of his biggest individual moments when he scored 18 points during a breakout third quarter in Onalaska’s regular-season victory over eventual Division 3 state runner-up G-E-T. “I didn’t want to go somewhere knowing that I’d have to sit and wait no matter what.”

Onalaska coach Craig Kowal said both coaches could offer Thomas a lot.

“Coach Hoiberg is a very classy person and a rising star in the coaching profession,” Kowal said. “I think visiting Virginia just made Matt’s decision tougher because Coach Bennett is unbelievable, too.”

Thomas follows Aquinas graduate Scott Christopherson to ISU.

Christopherson just completed his career and averaged 11.4 points per game. He’s currently pursuing professional playing opportunities.

Thomas said ISU coaches see him as a guard that can do a lot of things, and that’s just how Thomas wants to be seen.

“They definitely like my shot and my ability to make shots,” Thomas said. “But they watched enough of my games to know what I can do.

“They see me as a combo guard that can handle the ball, come off screens and make shots.”

Thomas, whose primary recruiting contact was ISU assistant coach and former UW-Whitewater guard T.J. Otzelberger, also made his decision the day before a new NCAA rule that allows coaches unlimited calls and text messages to all recruits who have completed their sophomore season goes into effect.

“It’s kind of nice to not have to deal with it anymore, but I wasn’t going to rush into a decision just because of that,” Thomas said. “After talking it over with my family, it looked like this was the best fit for me.

“I think (the recruiting process) was a pretty cool experience, but my gut told me I knew what I wanted to do, and it was the right time to decide.”

Kowal said his role was simply to help Thomas reach his decision, not by influencing it, but by listening to the player’s thoughts.

“Matt was so dialed in during our season that we didn’t talk much about it until after it was done,” Kowal said. “We looked at the schools and talked about them.

“I told him he had to go where he felt was right for him, not where I said or where his family said. When he told me he was ready to commit, I knew he’d picked what was right for him.”

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