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Better late than never: Thomas earns his degree

Kenny Thomas is shown during a June 2019 basketball workout for his former team, the New Mexico Lobos, at Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit. Thomas, who last played at UNM in 1998-99, recently earned his degree. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)


1,931 points.

1,032 rebounds.

239 blocked shots.

22nd pick in the first round of the 1999 NBA Draft.

Four NCAA Tournament appearances.

More than two decades after Kenny Thomas accumulated some of the most impressive numbers in Lobo men’s basketball history, the former NBA player added one more, rather important stat to his storied career for the University of New Mexico:

One college degree.

With an assist from current coach Paul Weir, who has now helped at least two former Lobos he didn’t coach complete their degrees at UNM, Thomas in December wrapped up a 25-hour crash course of classes since June to earn a bachelors degree in Liberal Arts.

“It’s like I told them (at UNM), this was about a promise I made to my mom,” Thomas, 42, told the Journal in a phone interview on Tuesday night, referring to his mother Patricia. “I’m the first one in my family to get a college degree.”

In an email sent to local media on Tuesday by UNM, Thomas also stated, “I hope that I can inspire athletes and others to understand that it’s never too late to go back and finish a degree. … It’s better late than never, and I’m an example of that.”

He’s not the first former Lobo in recent years to come back into the fold at UNM and complete coursework for a degree after the basketball program helped facilitate the process.

Weir has paid for some of the classes for former Lobos from money from the 6th Man Club enhancement account – an account that, on the UNM Foundation website, states, “Every dollar donated to the 6th Man Club goes to offset the operating costs for Lobo Men’s Basketball.” The enhancement account funds for all sports at UNM and at other universities primarily go toward things like charter flights, equipment upgrades, sometimes summer travel events or generally whatever expenses aren’t being covered by the general athletic department budget.

Members of UNM’s 6th Man Club were thanked by Weir for helping last spring when former Lobo J.R. Giddens also finished his coursework and earned a degree, in part with some classes being paid for by the club.

Giddens said he hopes to use his degree to one day be a college coach, hopefully at UNM.

Thomas on Tuesday said he appreciated Weir, as well as Jennifer Gomez, his former academic advisor from his playing days in the 1990s, for helping him navigate the process of getting back in school.

In his case, and that of some other former Lobos doing the same, the availability of online classes makes the task easier than in the past. Giddens was able to take a lot of his remaining classes in person in the summer of 2018. Then he told the Journal how appreciative he was that the program wasn’t just welcoming him back, but that it was still committed to helping him, Weir in particular.

“Just (Weir’s) personality and how he welcomes me back and how he wants me involved in the program,” Giddens said. “I’m not throwing dirt on anybody, but, in the past, it wasn’t like this. We’ll just say that.”

Weir, who has several degrees of his own and last December earned his doctorate from New Mexico State University, confirmed Tuesday there are a few other Lobos either currently enrolled in classes or who have talked with him about finally finishing the degree they never received when they played at UNM.

“Earning a degree is an incredible accomplishment, and for (Thomas) to come back and set this example for our student-athletes brings me great joy,” Weir said.

“Education has been impactful to me in my own life and I look forward to watching the doors it will now open for Kenny. Much like J.R. Giddens last year, the confidence these young men exude when they have obtained their degree is among the best parts of being a coach.”

Thomas, who lives in Sacramento and is in the second year of coaching at a junior college, said coaching might continue to be a part of his future. He was able to complete his final 25 hours of classes entirely online – nine in the summer, 15 in the first eight-week block of the fall semester and then one final hour in the second eight-week block before earning the degree in December.

Body starts here.

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