After the Arizona women's basketball team bid at a national championship came up one shot short earlier this year on April 4, senior forward Sam Thomas announced the next day that she was going to be returning for one last season with the Wildcats.
Thomas was named USA Today’s player of the year during her senior year in high school. Thomas decided to commit to Arizona in 2017. Thomas has been a crucial part of Arizona’s success, earning nine awards since her freshman season. Most recently, Thomas was named to the 2021 All-Pac-12 team, 2021 Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Elite 90 Award winner and 2021 CoSIDA Academic All-American First Team.
Even after an impressive year, she is still looking for the next opportunity in her list of accolades.
“We are working on, I think it's like Woman of the Year, so working on that. Just trying to do all that I can but I'm really just focusing on this year trying to take advantage of every opportunity,” Thomas said.
Earning these awards has been normal for Thomas, who was named the Pac-12 All-Freshman of the year in 2018. Thomas decided to take a chance on Arizona, who had just finished in ninth place in the Pac-12 in head coach Adia Barnes' first year.
“I fell in love with the campus, obviously it's beautiful, sunny all the time but honestly it was the coaches that made me feel like a family. I had just moved to the west coast so only been here about a year and then coming there and having them already feel like a family right off the bat, I knew that this was the place for me,” Thomas said.
Thomas has been an anchor for the Wildcats. Thomas has never missed a game, playing and starting in all 125 games throughout her career. While being an important scorer for the team, that is not all Thomas has in her bag of tricks. She has led the team in blocks every year as well as led in steals her freshman season.
As her drive to become a better player continues, Thomas knows that she and the rest of the team will have to step up after Aari McDonald was drafted in the WNBA.
“Obviously I always want to be a consistent shooter but I think just being more aggressive. Without [McDonald], someone's going to have to make up a lot of points,” Thomas said. “We all are gonna make up the points but we all want to average double digits basically as the starting five so just working on driving, attacking, people being more aggressive.”
After winning the NIT tournament in 2019 and almost winning the NCAA National Championship, Thomas has remained busy outside of athletics. She represented the University of Arizona in front of Congress to speak about the impact of the name, image and likeness rules that allow players to earn money while playing under the NCAA.
“I was a little scared at first. … I was very just honored that they would pick me first of all and then to sit on a panel across some amazing men, … I think I just represented myself the best that I could. Everyone said I did a good job so I was stars truck in the moment so I just did it and I like blacked out, didn't remember anything. But now, after going back and looking at it, I'm so grateful that I had the opportunity to do that. It was a great speaking experience for me, going all the way to D.C., got to see the White House. It was huge and I'm very glad that I did it,” Thomas said.
Thomas also has started working for Arizona Communication Services as a student assistant. Not only that, but she has started writing a weekly column named Sam’s Corner and entered into the Sam’s Club athlete sponsorship contest.
Now as the Wildcats get ready for their season to start, Thomas has gained valuable experience from reaching the National Championship game.
“Every day in practice we rate our practices from, how would a National Championship team be but obviously we actually never were there so to actually have that experience and know like, ‘oh we practice like a six compared to a National Championship team, we will never make it there but now we have an actual basis of a scale of what to rate it,” Thomas said.
As Thomas prepares for the season in what she calls “grandma style,” she is ready to return for one last season.
“I mean why not, there's tons of pros, no cons so I mean, I just love this school. I love playing basketball,” Thomas said. “I love playing under Adia Barnes and so just to be able to come and playback another year I'm so grateful for it.”
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