CHICAGO – On Friday, the Trail Blazers will meet with guard Khyri Thomas at the NBA Combine, which will hold some significance for the Creighton standout.
CJ McCollum, the Blazers’ star shooting guard, is one of the players Thomas says he most admires and models his offensive game after, and if fate would have it that the Blazers select him at No. 24 during the June 21 draft, Thomas says it would be a blessing.
“If he took me under his wing and I could go at him every day, that would be lovely,’’ Thomas said with a smile. “That would be lovely.’’
Even though Thomas is attracted to McCollum’s game, he is a much different player.
A 6-foot-4 combo guard with a wingspan of 6-foot-10.5 inches, Thomas was the Big East defensive player of the year the past two seasons. He also shot 41.1 percent from three-point range, giving him the desired “three-and-D” label that has become the NBA’s latest trend.
“In college, we already had our scorers and go-to-guys,’’ Thomas said. “So I had to think how I could stand out and not be miserable. So I thought defensive was a thing … plus, defense wins games.’’
Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo, who scored 31 points in the NCAA title game, faced Thomas twice in the regular season and left impressed.
“On the ball, he’s amazing,’’ DiVincenzo said. “He’s long, he doesn’t take risks at all, so he contains well. And he has the length to contest bigger guys, reads the pick and roll great, and he can read weakside. So he was a tough defender for us both times we played them. And offensively, he killed us (at Creighton).’’
Thomas had 24 in that win over then third-ranked Wildcats and finished the season averaging 15.1 points and 2.8 assists while shooting 53.8 percent from the field.
He attributes much of his development to attending Ft. Union Military Academy outside of Richmond, Va. for high school. He entered what he said was a typical high school kid – interested in basketball and joking around – but left as a leader.
“It was a reality check,’’ said Thomas, who liberally uses sir and ma’am. “I matured, manned up and took it seriously.’’
It was a talk with a lieutenant at the academy that changed his on the court demeanor.
“He said, ‘I know you are quiet and shy, but if you become a vocal leader, the sky is the limit,’’’ Thomas recalled. “And that’s what I did – I stepped into a leadership role and guys listened to me.’’
On June 21, it will be Thomas listening for his name. Mock drafts have him going in the first round anywhere from the teens to the 20s.
Thomas at the Combine said he met with Phoenix (pick 16 and 31), Chicago (7thand 22nd), Washington (15th), Atlanta (19 and 30), (Boston (27th) and the Lakers (25th). He said Portland was one of a couple teams he would meet with on Friday.
He said whichever team drafts him will be getting a blend between Kawhi Leonard – “because he is a two-way guy and does the right things” – and McCollum, “because he is crafty and under control.’’
If he so happens to be selected by Portland? He figures that would only enhance his admiration of McCollum.
“I like the way plays,’’ Thomas said. “I watch a lot of film on him, just how crafty he is, in ball screens and one on one.’’