Delivered Hoosiers A National Championship
Colleges across the United States courted Thomas, and he chose to play at Indiana University under coach Bobby Knight. At 6-foot-1, Thomas was small for a college player, and Knight nicknamed him "Pee Wee."
What Thomas lacked in stature, he made up for with his skills, particularly his supernatural ability to make shots against defenders who towered over him. During the 1979-1980 season, Thomas' freshman year, he escorted the Hoosiers to a 21-8 record and the Big Ten Championship. Leading his team in scoring (423 points), assists (159), and steals (62), Thomas was named to the Associated Press All-Big Ten team, the first freshman to receive the honor. Thomas was so popular at Indiana that classmates greeted him with standing ovations when he entered lecture halls following a game day.
His sophomore year, Thomas delivered the Hoosiers to the 1981 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament title game, where they beat the North Carolina State Tar Heels 63-50, with Thomas accounting for twenty-three of his team's points. Over the course of the tournament, Thomas scored ninety-one points and had forty-three assists in five games. He was named the tournament's outstanding player.
Thomas's terrific tournament play generated a lot of attention, and he landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He wondered if it was time to join the NBA. Thomas wanted to finish school, but he also wanted to get his mother out of the ghetto.
Thomas decided to turn pro. During the June 1981 NBA draft, the Detroit Pistons had the second pick, and they selected Thomas. Thomas signed a contract for $400,000 a year, which, coupled with his bonus, brought the total to more than $1 million. He immediately bought his mother a house in the suburbs. When Thomas quit college, his mother made him promise to finish his degree. Thomas took classes the next several off-seasons, graduating from Indiana with a degree in criminal justice in 1987.
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