Deon Thomas has earned his spot amongst the legends who have played basketball in the Big-Ten Conference.
The 1989 graduate of Neal F. Simeon High School, Thomas is one of the most decorated high school basketball players ever to play in the United States. After his senior season, Thomas was selected to participate in the McDonald’s High School All-American Game and was unanimously chosen as “Mr. Basketball” for the state of Illinois. Thomas chose to attend the University of Illinois on a basketball scholarship, choosing the Fighting Illini from more than 150 schools that offered him a scholarship to play college basketball.
Thomas’ four-year career at Illinois can best be described as superb. Thomas left the Fighting Illini as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2129 points and shot-blocker with 177. He is the only player to score more than 2000 points in school history.
While at Illinois, Thomas became one of the Fighting Illini’s best players in program history as he was named to the All-Century Team 20-man roster in 2004. Thomas earned All-Big Ten honors and team MVP laurels in 1992, 1993 and 1994, including honorable mention All-American status in his final season. Aside from being Illinois’ all-time leading scorer and shot blocker, Thomas ranks first in made field goals (803) and fourth in career rebounds (846). His career-high of 39 points was against University of Illinois-Chicago on Dec. 30, 1991, which ranks tied-for-seventh all-time in program history.
After his senior season, Thomas was the 28th selection in the 1994 NBA Draft by the Dallas Mavericks. Thomas eschewed the NBA and chose to play overseas. What a decision it turned out to be.
Thomas played 15 seasons in Europe and is regarded as one of the best American-born players ever to play overseas. He began his professional career in Spain where he played for four different teams over a four-year period. In 1998, Thomas was signed by Maccabi RiShon LeZion in Israel and then he competed with a team in the Grand Canary Islands from 1999-2001. After returning to Spain for a two-year stint and one season in Turkey, Thomas came back to Israel and played for Maccabi Tel Aviv from 2003-05, winning the Israel Cup and Championship and the Euroleague Title twice. Thomas then played in Greece and Bulgaria for consecutive seasons before returning to Israel for the final two years of his professional career.
After coming back to the United States, Thomas was head coach at Lewis & Clark Community College from 2009-13 and was an assistant coach at University of Illinois-Chicago from 2014-15.
In 2016, Thomas embarked on a new career path that will allow him to enlighten basketball fans with his knowledge of the game. Beginning with the 2016-17 season, Thomas began providing commentary on University of Illinois radio broadcasts and was hired to be an in-studio analyst for the Big-Ten Network, based in Chicago.