Malcolm Thomas Q&A: DeMatha’s season, ACIT Championship, recruiting

Malcolm Thomas Q&A: DeMatha’s season, ACIT Championship, recruiting

In a battle of Maryland high school powerhouses this past weekend, the DeMatha Stags dominated Bishop McNamara with an 89-58 win in the 2023 Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament championship game.

With an array of three-pointers by their talented trio of senior guards Jaden Winston, Mason So and Isaiah Arnold — and thunderous dunks by the sole junior in the starting lineup, Malcolm Thomas — the Stags ran away with the victory in front of a stunned crowd. Nobody had predicted this outcome by that large of a margin. 

The win marks DeMatha’s fourth straight ACIT crown and its 27th overall.

I caught up with Malcolm Thomas after the game to discuss the team’s championship win, an up-and-down season, adjusting to a new coach, his recruiting and much more. 

(Photo Credit: Jonathan Spinks)

Etan Thomas: So your junior season has come to a close. It was your first season under new head coach Mike Jones. You all avenged regular-season losses against St. John’s and Bishop McNamara, and now, you won the ACIT championship. How does it feel? 

Malcolm Thomas: "It feels good. We’ve spent all season trying to put everything together. We had a tough two-point loss in the [Washington Catholic Athletic Conference] tournament to [St. Paul VI], but we had one more tournament to go. The final four was all WCAC teams, and it feels good to end the season on a good note."

Etan: Everyone was talking about your matchup with Donnie Freeman in the semifinals. College coaches kept talking about it to me, fans were asking about it all weekend. This was the head-to-head matchup everyone wanted to see. It was a great overtime win — you had 18 points to his 15 — but talk to me about that game and that matchup in particular.

Malcolm: "The DMV as a whole is very competitive, and me and Donnie will be matching up again over the summer during AAU and will match up again next season. I think it’s great, and it’s fun to go back and forth with someone like that and for people to be excited to see the matchup. We push each other and that’s how it’s supposed to be."

Etan: There has been a lot of criticism of new coach Mike Jones in his first year. It’s been an adjustment period. I mean, this is your third coach in three years, so I don’t see how anyone could expect there not to be an adjustment period. But everything came together at the end with a decisive 30-point blowout of Bishop McNamara. The entire gymnasium was shocked, especially since they played so well against Gonzaga [DC] the game before. But talk about that process of going through the ups and downs of the season and the adjustment period and how you all grew as a team.

Malcolm: "One of the biggest things Coach Jones preached all year is that no matter what happens, make sure we are always growing and always learning and getting better, and that’s what we did. We started off well at the beginning of the year, took a few dips as the season went on and we ended well. So we were able to withstand the adversity and not crumble when things weren’t going right, and that’s a credit to the leadership of our coaches."

Etan: You have a lot of talented guys coming back, some that people may not know about. What can DeMatha fans look forward to seeing next season?

Malcolm: "We have a lot of talent like you said. And we had a lot of seniors on this team, so many of [our players] had to take a back seat and wait and be patient, but you’re going to see next year. Coach did this thing in practice toward the end where he put underclassmen against upperclassmen, and we won our fair share of games against the seniors. But yes, we have a lot of talent coming back and they’re going to make a big impact next year."

Etan: So let’s talk about you a little bit and your growth this season. You won a lot of MVPs at different tournaments the entire year. You’ve shown your ability to score inside and out and your athleticism. You block shots with the best in the nation. You led the team in rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage. You almost led the team in scoring — I believe you and J-Win (Jaden Winston) were neck and neck.

But what are the things you want to keep adding to your game this offseason? Coach Jones said that you are “one of the most athletic players in the country." He emphasized that's not just in the DMV, but in the entire country, and he said this was something that shocked him and his coaching staff about you from Day 1.

Malcolm: "Well, I want to become the best player I can in all aspects of the game both offensively and defensively. I want to extend my game further out to the perimeter, improve my ball-handling. (I want to) improve on being able to guard 1-through-5 consistently no matter the lineup; coach has utilized me in that way all season and I want to keep improving on it, especially guarding smaller, faster guards on the perimeter like JQ (Jeremiah Quigley) for Bishop McNamara, who is very good at what he does — and that’s what I want to keep challenging myself to do."

Etan: So we’re in this new hybrid, positionless-players era that you seem to fall under. You’re 6-foot-8. You can play the 5, but you’re not an old-school, traditional 5. You can stretch the floor at the 4, and you can drive from the three-point line and knock down the mid-rangers at the 3. And like you said, you’ve guarded 2s and point guards at times. What do you attribute that ability to? 

Malcolm: "I think me playing with guys two years older than me with the Dynamic Disciples my whole life helped my growth. I was tall, but I never played center. I was always guarding the perimeter. Also, I grew up playing soccer, until I got too tall for it, so moving my feet was what I always did."

Etan: Let’s talk about recruiting. What is it that you’re looking for in a school? Schools all make promises and give their sales pitches as we’ve seen since recruiting started, but what is Malcolm Thomas looking for in a school? Also, a lot of people have assumed that you're definitely going to Syracuse. Five people said that to me this weekend actually.

Malcolm: "I’m looking for a school that best fits me and I would fit the best in. Of course, I grew up going up to Syracuse since I can remember, watching games at the [Carrier] Dome, seeing all the love you get when you go back there, so naturally I grew up loving the school. I mean, both my parents went there. But there are a lot of factors that come into play: My personal connection with the coaches, with the players, the environment, the school itself. I’m doing my homework. I’m not going to go to a school because of an NIL deal or because my parents went there. It has to be the right situation for me."

Etan: It’s easy to get caught up in the flattery of recruiting. Everyone tells you how great you are because they want you to come there, but I see so many kids going to schools for the wrong reasons and they end up transferring because it’s not the best place for them, which they quickly find out. 

Malcolm: "Well, I’m thankful that both of my parents have gone through the process and have prepared me for what to expect and what to look for and what not to be flattered by. That’s why it’s important for me to take my time and find the best situation for me. So now that regular high school season is over and AAU season is about to start, I’ll continue working on all of the things I want to improve on with my game and research schools and players who have played there and who are playing there, as these different schools reach out to me as I have been doing. It’s a process."

Etan: It’s interesting. You mentioned that you wouldn’t go to a school because of an NIL deal, but that’s exactly what is happening in this day and age. And of course, an NIL deal doesn’t mean that’s the best place for you, and I think that’s one of the reasons why you have so many kids in the transfer portal now. 

Malcolm: "But also, you have to keep in mind that a lot of kids are coming from situations where they need that money right now. I’m blessed not to be in that situation, but everyone’s situation is different, so I can’t knock them for it being important to them. But for me, yes, NIL deals are nice, but that’s not the determining factor for me personally."

Etan: That definitely makes sense. So here's my last question: Who is your favorite player to watch? Who is someone you would want to play like? 

Malcolm: "That’s easy: Giannis. The way he attacks the rim, people move out of the way when he drives to the hole. He dunks everything around the basket, and powers in and uses his length and strength. The way he has built up his body over the last few years is exactly how I’m going to build up mine. His three-point and outside shot is improving, and he is relentless on defense. He can guard anyone on the court, whether they are a point guard at the top of the key, the team's leading scoring 2-guard on the perimeter or the team’s biggest strongest big man in the paint. And he can bring the ball up the floor and initiate the offense."

Etan: Does that sound a little familiar? (Laughing) 

Malcolm: "Well, all of those are situations that Coach Jones has put me in this past season and has reiterated that he did that because he had the confidence that I can do all of that. So yeah, that’s what I am going to keep working toward. To be able to do all of that on a Giannis level. That’s my goal."

(Photo Credit: Jonathan Spinks)

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