Raise the Pick: This is the third article in a series about UTEP student-athletes who share their unique stories and how athletic scholarships have made a difference in their lives. Each of these students reflects on the value of their UTEP experiences and the opportunities they create for the future.
Some of life’s most important lessons aren’t learned in a classroom. It was during a preseason basketball game in Costa Rica in August that UTEP men’s basketball player Paul Thomas was reminded to appreciate what he has.
“I’ve never experienced a country like that,” Thomas said. “We actually got a chance to go to an orphanage that had several hundred kids and … give them T-shirts, talk to them, play games with them, take a tour and see how they live. I had never seen anything like that. It was really humbling … They were smiling, playing with us, asking to play hide and go seek and race them. It will definitely be something I remember for the rest of my life, seeing kids like that. It makes you count your blessings.”
Thomas, a small forward, is in his junior season with the Miners. Growing up in the Houston area, he was always the tallest kid in his family, in his class, and on any team he played for. He began playing sports at 5 years old, starting with basketball.
“I did not always like basketball,” Thomas said. “It was kind of forced upon me at a young age because being the taller kid, everyone expected me to play basketball. But I did not develop a love for the game probably until about the seventh or eighth grade. That’s when I chose basketball over baseball. I used to love baseball, but in seventh or eighth grade I hit about 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5, and at that moment I knew I had to make a decision and I chose basketball.”
That choice led him to UTEP and a Division I athletic scholarship.
“Paul is an excellent athlete who plays above the rim and can really run,” former UTEP head coach Tim Floyd said when Thomas signed to play with UTEP. “He has a strong skill level to where he can even play out on the perimeter. He is an excellent passer and ball handler who really sees the floor.”
“He is a tremendous person overall,” said James Bailey, who coached Thomas at Summer Creek High School in Houston. “He is a great kid with great grades. He’s everything a coach would want in a kid. He has a complete skill set on the floor. He can handle the ball, he can shoot and he can drive. He’s a really good athlete with a good basketball IQ who, with development, is going to play for money at some point in his career.”
The scholarship has meant a free education for Thomas, for which he is grateful.
“Without an athletic scholarship, I wouldn’t be able to attend college,” Thomas said. “It was either college or the military. I didn’t know I was going to attain a scholarship until about 10th or 11th grade when I started getting interest from colleges. Until then, I didn’t really have any sort of plan. When I started getting offers, it kind of made me get real about life and start thinking about what I wanted to do.”
Thomas is majoring in marketing and hopes to use his degree to work in marketing for a sports team.
“I’m just interested in why people make the decisions they make when it comes to buying or spending their time or money on something,” Thomas said.
It’s not all schoolwork and basketball for Thomas. He also likes to swim in lakes and oceans. On one memorable occasion while snorkeling in Cancun, he encountered a giant sea turtle.
“It startled me and rubbed up against me,” Thomas recalled. “I started choking up water, came up and was like, ‘What was that?’”
That’s when he saw the turtle the size of his torso swimming off.
As Thomas continues his junior year on the court and in the classroom, he is quick to thank donors and fans for helping to make his dreams come true.
“I’m so thankful for everything they do for us,” Thomas said. “These facilities are top notch … The fan support is amazing. A lot of people don’t know about UTEP and El Paso in general. They just have no clue how great it is.”
Visit minerathleticclub.com to learn more about the Raise the Pick campaign.
Author: Leonard Martinez – UTEP Communications