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Sam Thomas named to Naismith Trophy preseason watch list

NCAA Womens Basketball: Final Four Semifinal-Arizona at Connecticut Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Tipoff Club announced the 2022 Women’s Jersey Mike’s Naismith Trophy Watch List honoring the best player in women’s college basketball. Among the 50 players included was Arizona small forward Sam Thomas.

Thomas returned for her fifth year this season, taking the NCAA up on its offer for an extra year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. She will be adding to stats that already place her among the program’s best players, but she is only receiving national attention this year.

“I’m not surprised, but I’m glad that Sam is getting recognition now,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “It took a long time. It took a long time for her to be recognized offensively. So, I think it’s pretty amazing she’s being recognized on both ends.”

After ending last season on the All-Pac-12 and Pac-12 All-Defense teams, Thomas starts this season on the preseason All-Pac-12 team picked by the media. She is also on the preseason watch list for the Cheryl Miller Award which recognizes the nation’s best small forward.

At six feet tall, Thomas can play any position on the floor. At times in her previous four years, she has done just that while averaging 9.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.76 steals, and 1.35 blocks in 33.9 minutes per game. She has always been considered a lock down defender, making two straight Pac-12 All-Defense teams, but she also shoots 36.1 percent from the 3-point line and 41.5 percent from the field.

Her name is all over the Arizona record books. Thomas ranks third among all Wildcats for games played (125), second in games started (125), second in minutes played (4,230), fifth in three-point shooting percentage (.361), eighth in steals (220), and second in blocked shots (169). In her sophomore season, she hit 52 3-point shots and blocked 50 shots.

Thomas also excels in the classroom. She received her bachelor’s degree after her junior season. She is in her second year of grad school this year. Last season she was the 2021 Pac-12 Scholar Athlete of the Year, a 2021 CoSIDA First Team Academic All-American, and the winner of the Elite 90 Award for having the highest cumulative GPA of any student-athlete competing in the Final Four.

“What’s even better, is off the court,” Barnes said. “I want her to...continue to do amazing things that have never been done in this program. She deserves everything. She works hard. She’s our captain. She’s great for our culture.”

Thomas joined nine other players from the Pac-12 on the watch list. They include Cameron Brink, Haley Jones and Lexie Hull of Stanford, Alissa Pili of USC, UCLA’s Charisma Osborne, Washington State’s Charlisse Leger-Walker, Nancy Mulkey of Washington, Oregon’s Nyara Sabally, and Taylor Jones of Oregon State. No other league had more than eight.