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Kenny Thomas reconnects with Lobos

Kenny Thomas, a former University of New Mexico player, spoke to the UNM men’s basketball team after the Lobos practiced on Monday. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

After the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team finished practice on Monday, former star Kenny Thomas told the Lobos to, “keep it real,” when he asked them if their grade-point average was near the minimum to be eligible to play.

A few UNM players raised their hands while standing at center court at Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit to listen to Thomas’ message about the importance of academics. Education is also very important to Thomas, who said he enrolled in three UNM online courses this week.

“The reason I’m (talking about education) is because you all want to play basketball, but at the same time you have to apply yourself to the books,” Thomas said, after asking what the required G.P.A. is (it’s 2.3). “I’m not going to lie, here I am right now I just enrolled at UNM online this week. I need about 24 more credits myself. But at the same time I was blessed to be drafted.”

Thomas, a UNM Hall of Honor member, was drafted in the first round, 22nd overall, by the Houston Rockets and played 11 seasons in the NBA. In addition to the Rockets, he also played for the Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings.

He now lives in Sacramento and is in Albuquerque this week for multiple reasons, he said, including reconnecting with UNM basketball and the Lobos. He played golf in a UNM fundraising event on Friday at Santa Ana Golf Club.

He also met with the Isleta Pueblo, about the possibility of starting basketball camps and partnering with his water-bottle company, he said.

Monday was the first time he spoke to the Lobos since Paul Weir became coach two years ago.

“It’s awesome,” Weir said of Thomas reconnecting with the Lobos. “We’ve tried really hard to get former players to come back and I’ve been fortunate with some of them. Kenny was a guy who took some time. What’s happened in the past, I don’t know exactly. But for here, for now, I’m excited to have him and hopefully it will be something we can continue going forward.”

Weir had Thomas pose for a team photo with the Lobos after his message, saying that Thomas will be back, but that he just thought a photo was appropriate.

Thomas said he feels like it’s a good time to make his presence at UNM and in Albuquerque.

In Sacramento, he wants to start up a club basketball team. He said he hopes he can incorporate players from Albuquerque to give them exposure, too.

“When I was here it was amazing,” Thomas said. “When you leave, things change. … I think that we probably had to go through some coaching changes. Things happen. I think Paul Weir, he gets it. There’s so much value that I could probably help them with and bring to the table to help my school where I played.”

Thomas used himself as an example to stress the importance of earning a degree at UNM. He said his motivation is to earn his degree before his son can. His oldest of two sons, Matthew, 18, is attending Georgetown.

Thomas challenged the Lobos. He told them the NBA is a “cutthroat” business and that they’re “spoiled” to play at UNM.

He reminded them that there is life after UNM basketball and they should be prepared.

“I know all these guys want to make it to the NBA but they’re not all going to make it,” Thomas said “You’re going to need something to fall back on and that’s where education comes in.”

UNM forward Vance Jackson said he appreciated Thomas coming back to speak to the team.

“It just shows support,” Jackson said. “Every time we go to the locker room or go to the gym we always see his plaque. For him to come back and show support and give us advice, it’s just all motivation.”

Thomas made the Lobos laugh when he said he once had the nickname, “Baby Shaq of the WAC.” He also shared with them his dedication to practice. He pointed out where he worked on his left-handed hook because he had already a strong move to his right.

Thomas played four seasons for the Lobos, leading UNM to the second round of the NCAA Tournament each year. He said he’s excited about the current Lobos and their opportunities to succeed in the upcoming season.

Jackson said he’s also excited.

“It’s all about us,” he said. “We have to put in that work. We have to keep it going. Everybody knows what we’re capable of, we know what we’re capable of. It’s all about gelling together.”