February 24, 1971 |
|Nationality||American / Israeli|
|Listed height||6 ft 9 in (2.06 m)|
|Listed weight||238 lb (108 kg)|
|High school||Simeon (Chicago, Illinois)|
|NBA draft||1994 / Round: 2 / Pick: 28th overall|
|Selected by the Dallas Mavericks|
|1997–1998||Caja San Fernando|
|1998–1999||Maccabi Rishon LeZion|
|2003–2005||Maccabi Tel Aviv|
|2005–2006||Gymnastikos S. Larissas|
|2006–2007||Maccabi Giv'at Shmuel|
|Career highlights and awards|
Deon La velle Thomas (born February 24, 1971) is an American-Israeli former basketball player. As a high school player, he led his team to the Chicago Public League title, and was named Illinois Mr. Basketball. As a college player at the University of Illinois, he finished his career as the all-time leading scorer in Fighting Illini history. Selected by the Dallas Mavericks with the 28th selection of the 1994 NBA Draft, he opted to play professional basketball in Europe and Israel.
High school career
Thomas was a star basketball player at Chicago's Neal F. Simeon Vocational High School, graduating in 1989. As a junior in 1988, he led the Wolverines to the Chicago Public League title. As a senior, he was named Illinois Mr. Basketball and played in the McDonald's All-American Game, which also featured future NBA star Shaquille O'Neal.
Thomas played college basketball at the University of Illinois. Thomas finished his career as the all-time leading scorer in Fighting Illini history, with 2129 career points scored and an 18.0 points per game scoring average. Thomas is the only men's basketball player in Illinois history to score at least 2000 career points. Thomas was elected to the "Illini Men's Basketball All-Century Team" in 2004.
Prior to playing basketball at Illinois, Thomas was a central figure in a recruiting scandal. Regarded as one of the top prospects in high school basketball, Thomas was recruited by, among others, Illinois and the University of Iowa. An assistant coach at Iowa, Bruce Pearl, recorded a phone conversation with Thomas during which Thomas allegedly admitted to have been offered a Chevy Blazer and cash from Illinois assistant coach Jimmy Collins. Pearl later turned the recording in to the NCAA, accompanied by a memo describing the events.
Thomas denied having received such an offer from Illinois, and no proof of an offer or of improper benefits given to Thomas was found. On the other hand, while the NCAA never formally charged Thomas with any wrongdoing, the resulting investigation uncovered a few minor NCAA violations. The NCAA charged Illinois with a major infraction on November 7, 1990. Since it was Illinois' third violation in six years, the NCAA cited Illinois with a "lack of institutional control" charge and implemented several recruiting restrictions and a one-year postseason ban.
Deon Thomas has become a symbol of the intense Big Ten Conference rivalry between the universities of Illinois and Iowa. His recruitment and the resulting NCAA investigation and punishment is naturally interpreted differently by many Illinois supporters and many Iowa supporters, and the incident remains a catalyst for the heightened rivalry between Iowa and Illinois, years after his college career has ended. In 2006, when asked in an interview about forgiving Pearl, Thomas said "it's hard to forgive a snake".
Thomas was selected by the Dallas Mavericks with the 28th selection of the 1994 NBA Draft. Thomas attended mini camp but never played in the NBA, having opted to play professional basketball in Europe and Israel. Thomas played two years in Israel for Maccabi Tel Aviv, winning the Israeli championship, the Israeli cup, and the Euroleague championship twice. Thomas didn't play in the 2005 Final Four due to a broken leg. This injury forced him to leave Maccabi Tel Aviv. He then joined the Greek team Gymnastikos S. Larissas, the Bulgarian team CSKA Sofia, and then returned to Israel where he played for Givat Shmuel. He then played for Maccabi Haifa, also in Israel.
He is one of the most successful American pros of all time in the European leagues. Thomas has passed on several opportunities to play in the NBA. On 13 November 2006, in an interview for Bulgarian newspaper Tema Sport and Bulgarian television "Channel 3", Deon Thomas denied any wrongdoing and swore that he didn't receive anything from University of Illinois, as Bruce Pearl had claimed. He said the decision to play for Illinois was made by his grandmother. In 2009, Thomas became the Men's Basketball Head Coach at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois. In April 2014, Deon was named as an assistant basketball coach at the University of Illinois-Chicago. In 2016, he was hired by Fighting Illini Sports Network to call men's basketball games w/ Doug Altenberger.