BY Todd Dybas 03:34PM 03/31/2011

Why Isaiah Thomas is leaving

Junior’s declaration for draft influenced by rules, timing and resolution.

Isaiah Thomas celebrates after hitting the game-winning shot against Arizona in the Pac-10 tournament / Getty Images

Just a day before a national day honoring jokes, Isaiah Thomas was dead serious.

Thomas announced Thursday that he will be leaving the University of Washington after three years and submit his name into the NBA draft. Thomas is not hiring an agent right away, but says there is no chance he is returning to the Huskies.

“Yes, it is a goodbye,” Thomas said. “Sorry to say. But I feel like this is the right time for me to make this decision and I’m just not going to hire an agent as of right now, not until I really feel like I need to.”

Following Washington’s loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to North Carolina, Thomas waffled about his return. Thursday, despite the opportunity to look into the draft then withdraw, Thomas said he made a steadfast decision.

“It was very difficult,” Thoms said. “Ever since the season ended, it was on my mind. And leaving the University of Washington is the hardest thing I’ve done in my life.”

Three vital factors influenced Thomas’ decision:

Foremost, the withdrawal timing for underclassmen. Thomas had until April 24 at 11:59 EST to submit his name for consideration. To retain college eligibility, his name must be withdrawn by May 8 and he cannot hire an agent. The official NBA early-entry list is supposed to be released April 28. Prior to the distribution of that list, NBA teams are not allowed contact with an underclassman.

The big date is May 8. The draft is not until June 23. That means players can only workout for a NBA team from April 28-May 8, an impossibly short time for each side to make an informed assessment particularly since teams don’t close the regular season until mid-April.

Last year was the first with the new date. The old date for withdrawal was up to 10 days prior to the draft. This complicated recruiting and planning for college coaches who demanded a change. Hence the new dates and Thomas’ departure.

“If it was like it was a couple years ago, there’s no doubt in my mind that testing the waters is what I would have done, Thomas said. “They give you time to really get your feet wet in there.“

Second, Thomas says he is being told he’s projected to go from the middle of the first round to the early second round. This is a debated assessment. Most have Thomas as a middle or late second-round pick.

If Thomas is selected in the first round, the first two years of his contract are guaranteed then followed with two team options under the current collective bargaining agreement. If he is selected in the second round, he could still receive guaranteed money, though it’s rare. Another factor is the likelihood of a NBA lockout next season, something Thomas said he did not influence his decision.

An influence on those projections and Thomas’ decision to depart is his perception of the crop of point guards in this year’s draft and the nature of the NBA game.

“I feel like with the guards coming out this year, I have a really good chance of going high in this draft,” Thomas said. “I don’t feel like it’s a real strong draft class with the point guards this year and I’m very confident in myself and it’s the right move for me and my family.”

Thomas went on to explain his belief that the NBA is moving back toward smaller guards who can penetrate and cause problems. Though a quick look at the NBA’s dominant point guards shows them to be much larger than the 5-foot-8 Thomas. Deron Williams is 6 foot 3. Chris Paul is 6 foot. Steve Nash is 6-3. Other players, like former Husky Nate Robinson (5-9) and miniature Earl Boykins (5-5) have experienced serviceable NBA careers.

Third, what’s left? Thomas said he was going to be moved back to shooting guard next season at Washington, another factor in his decision. He’s the school’s sixth-leading scorer (1,721 points), won a Pac-10 regular-season title, two Pac-10 Tournament titles, made three consecutive NCAA appearances, is third in assists (415) and third in three-point makes (164). If he played his senior season, he was close to a lock to break the first two records and had a reasonable chance at the third.

Thomas spoke in the past about wanting to be remembered as the greatest Husky, a status he would have likely received if he stayed, won more and broke those records. He said those records would be nice, but were not the reason he came to the school.

“That wasn’t really big for me,” Thomas said. “I know all the records I am close to breaking. When I came to the University of Washington, it wasn’t to break records. That wasn’t my dream. It was to have coach Romar and my teammates help fulfill my dream of getting to the NBA.”

Next for Thomas are a few days off, followed by getting back in the gym. The NBA community is working to put together a mass workout including underclassmen at the end of April, according to He is a likely candidate to participate.

The NCAA rule that forced Thomas’ hand is a bad one. The old rule put college coaches on the short end. If a star needed to be replaced at the beginning of summer, teams were left short.

As always, recruiting is a disastrous and often despicable business that the NCAA has a difficult time managing. This current rule protects coaches and the college game. Though the counter is it very likely can lead to underclassmen making desperate decisions because, like Thomas, they feel they can’t showcase themselves for teams to understand what they can offer.

Solutions to improve draft showcasing for underclassmen are being discussed. Washington needs to now come up with its own solution to Thomas’ surprising departure.

Incoming freshman Tony Wroten is labeled a skilled passer and point guard. Abdul Gaddy is there to run the team, though he is still rehabilitating a torn ACL. Thomas’ departure also leaves a second scholarship open for Washington, which could mean recruit Andrew Andrews, a point guard previously en route to prep school, could join the team. Though his impact next season would be minimal if he does not redshirt.

No matter the replacement, Washington will undergo a massive facelift next season, more so than than the past two years. Along with its leader in scoring and assists, the Huskies lose their second-leading scorer and leading rebounder in Matthew Bryan-Amaning, another senior starter and defensive maven in Justin Holiday and its backup point guard in Venoy Overton.

It will also lose the swagger the bicep-flexing, battling Thomas brought. His histrionics irked opposing crowds and began trends among the Hec Ed denizens.

Thomas helped win 76 games in three years, improving his game during each despite not improving his much-maligned height. He made the leap from high school to college with skill and charisma.

“You can hate on my basketball game, you can say what you want about anything in the my life, anything on the basketball court,” Thomas said. “(But) don’t underestimate nothing. I came here and won basketball games with my teammates and coaching staff.”

And with that, he took his final shot.


  • Paul Harmening

    I kept track of this kid since his days in high school. I made an assessment back then he’d make it to the top level. It’l be interesting to see how this develops, but creds to LoRo for backing him on this decision. I don’t watch the pros anymore, and probably never will again, unless the Sonics can fly their flag again with a team that moves here sometime in the next few years.

  • Jeff in Baton Rouge

    Why Isiah is leaving? Seriously? Dude has an ego the size of Canada you really are surprised he thinks he’s NBA ready? He probably sleeps with his press clippings under his pillow.

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