Being cousins to four-time NBA All-Star and four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace, along with former Tennessee four-year letterwinner JaJuan Smith, will bring high expectations to any family member following two exceptional basketball talents.
However, it's clear that Chattanooga, Tenn. native Miles Thomas is creating his own path to stardom.
Following exceptional high school and junior college careers at South Doyle (Tenn.) and Walters State (Tenn.), Thomas, after a very solid junior campaign at Tennessee-Martin as evidenced by his 7.1 points per game and his 10 double-figure scoring performances, will finish his career at Shawnee State as a second-semester eligible transfer.
"It's great to join the Shawnee State men's basketball family," Thomas said of becoming a part of the program. "They've got a great culture. I'm just hoping to add to it and keep the upward momentum going. I'm appreciative of the opportunity."
Thomas, who didn't start seriously pursuing the game of basketball until middle school, established himself as one of the best players in Tennessee, regardless of class.
The four-year letterwinner scored over 1,500 points in his high school career, mainly coming in his junior and senior campaigns where Thomas averaged 16 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks during the 2014-15 campaign and 21 points to go along with seven rebounds as a senior for South Doyle.
He was named as the District 2-AAA Player of the Year as a senior and was named as a Class AAA All-State honoree, capping off a strong high school career. In being named an All-State selection in high school, Thomas joined a who's-who of great natural talents, including future Clemson and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver standout Tee Higgins, current Memphis standouts Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax, and Oregon letterwinner Chandler Lawson.
"My sixth grade year was when I got into basketball heavily," Thomas said. "From then on, I tried to pattern my game after Dwayne Wade. Growing up, that was somebody I tried to imitate. With South Doyle, that was a place where they were trying to change the culture," Thomas said. "My group was the start of that, so that was huge."
Thomas builds on early success
After signing with Tennessee Tech and redshirting during the 2016-17 season, Thomas played his next two campaigns at Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tenn.
There, Thomas, after averaging 12.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game as a freshman, took his game to the next level.
In averaging 21.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game at Walters State as a redshirt sophomore, Thomas was named as the Tennessee Community College Athletic Association's (TCCAA) Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year after shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range. Thomas also won NJCAA National Player of the Week honors once, scored 1,040 points with Walters State, led the unit to a 23-8 overall record in his second season with the program, and was named to the NJCAA All-Star Game in Las Vegas, Nev.
Back at a NCAA Division I program for the second time after starring at Walters State, Thomas proved to be both reliable and productive for Tennessee-Martin, as well. The redshirt junior was one of only three players on the 2019-20 roster to appear in all 29 games last season and one of four to start at least 20 games for the Skyhawks. He finished second on the team in steals with 30 in all -- averaging just above one steal a game -- and also posted 3.4 rebounds and two assists on his statline in 26.6 minutes per game to go along with his sound scoring ability.
"I learned how to become a better leader, both on and off of the court, at Walters State and Tennessee-Martin," Thomas said. "My game also matured from an intangibles standpoint. The competition was great. There were great players that made the professional ranks, so it was a good, competitive environment."
Coach Lin strikes again
Another day, another recruiting victory credited to Shawnee State associate head coach Lindal Yarbrough. The former graduate of Hunters Lane High School in Nashville has continued to add up recruiting wins across the Midwest and Mid-South. Yarbrough has especially done his part in Tennessee, landing two former prized TSSAA All-Staters in Kyree Elder (last year) and Thomas.
"I've known him since high school," Thomas said. "There was always a connection there. Outside of basketball, Coach Lin was just real genuine. I knew that it wasn't going to be ever about using me as a person, but moreso helping me mature as a person in order to become a better player."
Big impact in short time?
While Thomas isn't set to be eligible until the second semester, that's not stopping the Chattanooga, Tenn. native from thinking big picture. His ultimate goal is to help the program however he can now in order to help lead the Bears to glory on down the line.
"We want to build on the success that we've had, and possibly obtain another 20-win season," Thomas said. "We want to win the Mid-South Conference Regular Season and Tournament Championships, and make the national tournament."
For more information on SSU Bears Athletics, visit www.ssubears.com or visit the Twitter and Facebook pages at https://twitter.com/SSUBears and https://www.facebook.com/SSUBears. For more information on how to join the SSU Bear Club or for sponsorship of specific SSU players or events, visit https://givetossu.com/bear-club and https://givetossu.com/sponsorthebears.