Tatiana Thomas is a throwback player of sorts in the mind of Bolingbrook girls basketball coach Chris Smith.
“She does what she’s supposed to do,” Smith said. “You can get on her and she’s going to say, ‘Yes coach, my fault coach, I’ll do better next time coach.’ There’s never no disrespect from her at all.”
He says Thomas doesn’t take plays off, and that she has a burning desire to compete.
“Whether she does something positive or negative, she’s always positive,” Smith said. “No matter if I have to get on her and be hard on her, she’s always positive.”
After notable receiving interest from Division I programs as far back as 2019 — Thomas was offered by Marquette that June — the 5-11 forward committed to Kent State on July 3.
“They’ve been recruiting me for a year-and-a-half, and at first I just had a lot of different schools talking to me so I wasn’t pinpoint on one school,” Thomas said. “But once I visited them, I liked the coaches. They were really nice, kind and genuine. I got to hang out with the girls and they were super sweet, and I would ask them questions and I feel like they told me how it was. Some people just gaslight you … I feel like they were pretty truthful … it seems like a good place to call home.”
Currently, four other Lady Raiders are on MAC rosters: De’Ahna Richardson at Western Michigan, Jayden Marable at Northern Illinois, Jahari Smith at Central Michigan and Treasure Thompson (LSU transfer) at Eastern Michigan.
There wasn’t too much of an adjustment period for Thomas after her transfer from Montini before her junior season, as she exploded for 22 points in her first game with the program. Before she had even made the decision to play at Bolingbrook last summer, several of her future teammates took her on a trip to a mall to make her feel welcome.
“I meshed with the girls really well,” Thomas said. “They’re all super nice and welcoming.”
Thomas can fill out the stat sheet in a number of ways — note her seven-steal performance against Homewood-Flossmoor — and Smith says rebounding ability sets Thomas apart from her peers.
“She is notorious on the boards and as a defensive presence,” Smith said. “Offensively she can hit the mid-range, attack off the bounce and use her quickness.”
Despite not being the primary scoring option on the team, her all-around ability yielded her Southwest Suburban Conference Blue Division Athlete of the Year honors. And now she can potentially repeat that honor as a senior.
While the Raiders haven’t spent much time in competition this summer — Smith likes his teams to work on conditioning and skill development during the June team period — Thomas was content with the time used to further bond with teammates and prepare for the upcoming season. She’s been playing more of a shooting guard and wing spot for travel squad Illinois Lady Lightning this summer, a program that she has been part of for years.
“I’ve definitely improved over the last year,” Thomas said. “I do a lot more outside shooting and I handle the ball a lot more. For my travel team I play the two instead of the three or four. I do play those positions still, but I’ve been mostly a two (this summer). I’m really excited to be able to go to Kent State and for them to work with me. I feel like they’re going to make my skillset so much better from what it is now.”
Kent State coach Todd Starkey told Thomas that he likes her game as is and that made Thomas feel comfortable and appreciated, she said.
“If I go to Kent State, I’ll be able to be an impact player and I’ll be able to help my team,” Thomas said. “If that means I were to be able to sit on the bench, I would do that and be the best bench player ever.”
“I really want to make sure I keep myself in shape, especially not just during the high school season but after going into college so I don’t feel like I’m going to die at the college workouts. I want to do that and I want to improve my outside game, my shot, my mid-range and get my handles better before I go off to college so I have a better transition.”
With another bonafide Division I recruit back this season in Angelina Smith, and a strong core of returning players who saw major time for Bolingbrook a season ago, Thomas enters her senior season ready to focus.
“It’s a big relief to know where I want to go and have it all figured out and stuff, so I don’t have to be stressed out through my whole senior year so I can focus on my grades, basketball and just having fun,” Thomas said.