Once the student, Isaiah Thomas now the mentor to next group of NBA hopefuls from Seattle area

Isaiah Thomas finishes with a layup against the New Orleans Hornets. (Photo: Steven Chea)

Coming from the Pacific Northwest, Isaiah Thomas has had plenty of role models who’ve helped shape his basketball identity.  From Nate Robinson to Jamal Crawford, Brandon Roy to Jason Terry and Nate McMillan to Gary Payton, the Sacramento Kings starting point guard has been fortunate to have some pretty good mentors.

But as he prepares for his third NBA season, the tables have turned.  Once the student, Thomas has now become the teacher.

A new crop of NBA hopefuls with Seattle ties are trying to make their way into the league and some of them are crediting Thomas as an influence on their basketball identities.

“He’s been a big inspiration,” said guard Abdul Gaddy, a former teammate of Thomas’ at Washington, after his pre-draft workout in Sacramento on Saturday.  “He’s one of the biggest influences in my life when it comes to basketball.

“Just ’cause you know how hard he works,” Gaddy added.  “He’s had to overcome a lot, especially ’cause of his size…but he’s always beat the odds.”

Growing up in Tacoma together, the 21-year-old guard has known Thomas for years.  Gaddy says he and Thomas first met back in elementary school and ever since then, he’s looked up to the Kings’ starting point guard.  Despite having four inches in height over his former UW teammate, Gaddy considers Thomas like a “big brother”.

To Gaddy, Thomas’ will to succeed is probably what stands out most about the Kings guard.  Thomas’ drive to continuously improve has been one thing Gaddy takes to heart in his own journey to the pros.

“I can’t even count how many times we’ve been in the gym together and he’s pushed me competitive-wise and just in every aspect of my game,” Gaddy said.

Gaddy counts Thomas as one of the most competitive people he’s been around in his entire life.  The 21-year-old former Husky believes that Thomas’ desire to prove skeptics wrong about his ceiling as a player is part of what makes him one of the toughest competitors he’s played with or against.

“He’s been like that since we were little,” Gaddy said of Thomas.  “I think it’s just because he’s been so little; I always call it little man syndrome.  He’s little, but he don’t like when people bully him or say ‘Oh, you’re too small.’  He hates it.  He really gets upset.”

Like Gaddy, former Louisville guard Peyton Siva looks up to Thomas as well.  The Seattle native has also had a longstanding relationship with Thomas that dates back to their childhood when the two played AAU basketball.

“He always played on an older AAU team than I did,” Siva said after his pre-draft workout in Sacramento two days ago. “So I always got a chance to talk to him and be around him.”

The 22-year-old was one of the driving forces behind Louisville’s championship run this year in college basketball.  Perhaps the grueling workouts with Thomas and another fellow Seattleite two years ago played a major factor paving Siva’s path to an NCAA title.

“We worked out with Jason Terry two summers ago,” Siva said of Thomas, who he added texted him before his tryout with the Kings.  “And I got a chance to really connect with him on that end.”

Thomas has had plenty of basketball wisdom come his way throughout his career.  Now as the next group of prospects get ready to start theirs, he’s just paying it forward.

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About: Jonathan Santiago

Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.