Jessica Thomas wasn’t born yet when her oldest brother, Lamar, was a star receiver for the national champion University of Miami football teams of 1989 and 1991. But she was raised a Hurricane and inherited some of his UM swagger even though the family lived in Gainesville and was surrounded by Florida Gators.
When it came time to sift through scholarship offers, Thomas, the 2013 Florida Miss Basketball, knew in her heart she was headed to Coral Gables. In addition to her love for the school, she admired coach Katie Meier’s enthusiasm for the game. The feeling was mutual.
Thomas, a sophomore point guard they call J.T., is a key reason the Canes are 11-3 heading into Thursday’s home game against No.4 Notre Dame. Her ball distribution and her moxie will be crucial against a 14-1 Irish team that was NCAA runner-up last season and is 107-7 over the past three years.
Meier first encountered Thomas at UM camps and knew right away she was her type of player.
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“I saw her and thought, ‘My God.’ At a young age she had this desire and burn to be better and sometimes she didn’t handle mistakes really well, but the flip side is a kid who doesn’t care,” Meier said. “Her brother’s Lamar and her parents are great people; and there’s something that’s so rare. I couldn’t stop thinking about Jessica Thomas.”
By the time she arrived at UM, she proved she was more than just Lamar’s little sister.
Thomas averaged 32 points, six assists and three steals as a senior for Gainesville Buchholz High School. She led her team to the state 7A title, scoring 26 points in the final, 38 in the semifinals and 47 in the regional finals.
She also played varsity golf. She shot 72 in the district finals and finished 11th in the state tournament as a senior. Thomas’ parents, Tara and Larone, are avid golfers, as are her three older brothers (all of whom played college sports). She got her first set of plastic clubs when she was 5 years old and spent countless hours on the golf course until AAU basketball started getting in the way in middle school.
Basketball became her main sport, but golf remained her first love.
“Golf requires incredible focus and concentration, and that has helped me on the basketball court,” she said.
When she wasn’t playing basketball or golf, she was oil painting. She also was in National Honor Society and continues to get A’s and B’s at UM.
Thomas spent the offseason getting faster and stronger, improving her bench press from 135 pounds to 205 pounds. Last year, she averaged 5.1 points. This year, she is up to 9.1 and leads the team in assists (36) and steals (24).
“I got my feet wet last year, but this year I have a much bigger role,” Thomas said. “I understand how Coach wants the team run.”
Said Meier: “Last year, J.T. wanted to prove she’s a great player. This year, she evolved and wants Miami to become a great team, and her to be a huge reason why. That is why I am so proud of her.”
Thursday: Notre Dame at UM women
When/where: 7 p.m., Bank-United Center.
TV/radio: ESPN3, WVUM 90.5 FM.
Records: UM 11-3, 1-0 ACC; Notre Dame 14-1, 2-0.
Noteworthy: Defending ACC champion Notre Dame has reached the past four Final Fours and won 30-plus games in all four of those seasons. The Irish are riding an 18-game ACC win streak and beat UM 79-52 when they played last January. … The Canes are coming off a 74-53 win over Boston College.