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Sam Thomas announces she’ll return to Arizona for fifth season

Arizona v Connecticut Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Arizona senior forward Sam Thomas left the Alamadome court Sunday saying she was undecided whether she would return for a fifth and final season.

By the time the team returned to Tucson for a Welcome Home celebration Monday afternoon, Thomas had made up her mind.

“I love you guys so much,” Thomas told the cheering crowd at Arizona Stadium. “This has been a great journey with my teammates. And I’m going to come back for one more year.”

Thomas’ words set off one of the biggest roars of the celebration, and no one looked more excited than her own teammates standing beside her.

Thomas, Arizona’s four-year captain and one of the first recruits to sign on to play for Adia Barnes, had given mixed signals in recent weeks as to whether she planned for a fifth year.

After the national championship loss to Stanford, she said, “I would consider this a high even though we didn’t end up winning. I mean, we’ve made history and we always say, ‘Leave a legacy.’ I think I’ve left my legacy here at this program.”

By returning for another season, Thomas will take over as de-facto leader of a program that’s seeing its All-American Aari McDonald depart.

Thomas is a 2020-21 Pac-12 All-Defensive Team member and the only player in the league to average at least two steals and one block per game.

“She’s one of the most underrated defenders in the country,” Barnes said Sunday. “If you watch her, and you look at the little things she does, they just don’t always show up on stat sheets. ... She locks down her opponent every single game and they can be the 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5.”

Barnes said Monday she’d known “for months” Thomas planned to return but continued to recruit her lest Thomas change her mind.

Thomas, a 6-foot forward, still has room to grow offensively, which might be one reason why she is returning. Another is the opportunity to pursue graduate school: Thomas carries a 3.97 GPA and was named the 2021 Pac-12 Scholar Athlete of the Year.

And then there’s perhaps the most obvious reason: putting Arizona back in the hunt to win a national championship.

“Let’s go to the next the Natty next year,” Thomas said to end her speech.