ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas wants to be a starter.
And since the 6-foot-3 sophomore guard doesn’t see that as a realistic possibility at the University of New Mexico in the next couple of seasons, he requested, and was granted, his release from his scholarship from the Lobos basketball team Wednesday.
“All came down to I didn’t see my dreams coming true here,” Thomas told the Journal.
Thomas said he wanted to thank everyone around the program – from coaches to teammates to the fans – who made the past two seasons as a Lobo memorable.
“I’m a little upset it didn’t work out like I wanted, but there are no hard feelings,” Thomas said. “I just want to go somewhere I might get a chance to start.”
The Baton Rouge, La., native said he does not yet have a school in mind for the transfer, but added the school doesn’t necessarily need to be closer to home, just at a Division I school he feels is a good fit for him. He will have to sit out a season and then will have two years of playing eligibility beyond that.
He plans to leave Albuquerque in mid-May after he completes finals.
Thomas is the third player from this past season to seek a transfer and the seventh overall from the 2013-14 roster who is moving on, joining Kendall Williams, Cameron Bairstow and Chris Perez (exhausted eligibility), Alex Kirk (pursuing professional career), Nick Banyard (transfer) and Tim Myles (transfer).
Williams, Bairstow and Kirk were starters who scored 66.1 percent of UNM’s points this past season. Perez (two games) and Myles (one game) were seldom used.
Banyard and Thomas, however, were big parts of the rotation early in the season, with Thomas starting the first 10 games. By the end, however, neither was a regular, with Banyard appearing in just one of the team’s final 11 games and Thomas averaging fewer than nine minutes per game in the final five. In the season-ending loss to Stanford, Banyard did not play, while Thomas played four minutes.
The diminished role for Thomas, which coincided with the increased minutes of junior college transfer Deshawn Delaney, who started 23 of the Lobos final 24 games (the one exception being on Senior Night when Perez started), wore on him down the stretch, he told the Journal after the Stanford loss.
Thomas finished the season as the team’s seventh leading scorer, averaging 3.9 points, 2.4 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game. He had a career-high 12 points in a January overtime win at Wyoming that included him going 2-for-2 from 3-point range and 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.
Lobos head coach Craig Neal, in a statement emailed to media, thanked Thomas for his time with the program.
“I would like to thank Cleveland for everything he’s done for our program,” Neal said in the email. “He’s been a big contributor to our program and an integral part of two conference championships here at New Mexico. He has come in and excelled on the court, in the classroom and in the community. We are sorry to see him leave our program but will continue to support him as he explores other playing opportunities.”
Just last week at the annual postseason awards banquet, Thomas was awarded, along with teammate Hugh Greenwood, the Lobo Award given to the “best all-around student athlete” on the team.
Greenwood on Wednesday night also took to Twitter to express his thoughts on Thomas leaving: “This one hurts man, gonna miss my brother @CpT_1 more than most. Wishing him nothing but the best in his future endeavors. Love you fam!”
UNM now has three scholarships to fill of the six that opened up after the season. The other three are to be filled by November high school signees Xavier Adams of Texas and Joe Furstinger of California, along with last week’s signee J.J. N’Ganga, a 6-10 center from Northern Oklahoma College — Tonwaka.