REBELS BASKETBALL:

10 minutes with UNLV forward Quintrell Thomas

Kansas transfer reflects on lessons learned, discusses his slimmed-down physique and mysterious game

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AP PHOTO

Kansas’ Quintrell Thomas (11) gets past UMKC’s James Humphrey (1) and Latreze Mushatt (4) to put up a shot during the first half on Nov. 16, 2008, in Lawrence, Kan. Thomas announced his intent to transfer to UNLV on May 22, 2009.

Editor's Note: Each week this summer, UNLV beat writer Ryan Greene will have a 10-minute question-and-answer session with a member of the Rebels' men's basketball team. The focus is not just on last season but also what lies ahead.

Like the transfers before him who have found a basketball rebirth of sorts at UNLV, Quintrell Thomas feels as though he's ready for a relaunch after a year away from regular-season play.

Thomas, a New York/New Jersey native who spent the 2008-09 season at Kansas, got off to a tough start right after relocating to Las Vegas last summer, undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

The 6-foot-8 power forward returned to the practice floor for the Rebels as a redshirt in early January, and, despite having to work his way back into shape, showed just what he can provide as a sophomore in 2010-11, when he'll officially suit up for UNLV.

In a limited reserve role for the Jayhawks as a freshman, Thomas averaged just 1.5 points and two rebounds per game, but will have a chance to earn many more minutes right from go under coach Lon Kruger.

With an edge and an air of confidence to him, Thomas could be just what the Rebels need in an effort to make national noise and a deeper run in the NCAA tournament in a season with high expectations.

Ryan Greene: I guess the first question with you is about your shoulder. Give us an update on it. You came back to practice midway through last season. Is it back to 100 percent now? What's the status with that?

Quintrell Thomas: Oh yeah. It's basically back to 100 percent. My overhead stuff is still a little weak, but I didn't really do anything for six months, so it'll come back. It's way better than it was before. It's 100 percent, pretty much. With weight-lifting, it will be a little tender now, so my overhead stuff, I can't do as much as everyone else yet, but I will be able to. That, I guess, is the hardest place to strengthen again, so that's where my area of compromise was before. It's pretty much back to normal as far as playing. With lifting, I just have to get it stronger.

RG: What about the conditioning aspect of it? I remember when you came back for that first week of practice, you talked about how much you were sweating and how hard it was to get back into it. Are your legs back under you completely?

QT: My legs are back under me. When I came back, I was like 265 pounds, so it was definitely a little strenuous and I was tired, so I recently shed all of the weight and that helped a lot.

RG: Where are you right now, weight-wise?

QT: Um, 245. They were getting on me about that quite a bit.

RG: How'd you do it? Just by being active again? Or did you have to make some sacrifices?

QT: Well, pretty much I ate like a pig. When you're younger it doesn't really affect you. Because I was eating Triple Whoppers on a regular basis, it messed me up. But now I'm eating like a normal person, so my weight went down.

RG: How about pick-up ball this summer? How are you meshing with the guys and what have you thought about the way you've played going full-speed with everyone?

QT: Pick-up is fun — especially now that Derrick (Jasper) can play again. Because Derrick is a really good passer, so when he's on your team, there are a lot more dunks and stuff. I guess it's because he's taller and he plays point guard, but he passes the ball really well. It's really fun playing with him.

RG: So you and Derrick have clicked pretty well?

QT: Yeah, Derrick clicks well with everybody. He's aware of when to get everyone the ball, so he's definitely fun to play with.

RG: Last year, he was kind of in the same shoes that you are in this year in the sense that there's not a ton of new faces in the program, and there's a lot of hype surrounding what you're going to bring. How do you go about handling that, knowing that from the first day you suit up this year, there's going to be pretty big expectations on you?

QT: Well, I kind of won't think about that, because I haven't done anything here. For all I know, I could come out and have a bad first game, so it's really not smart to listen to hype.

RG: What have those other guys on the team told you about the difficulties of being a transfer, having that layoff between one stop and the next and things that you really have to deal with as far as making it as smooth of a transition as possible?

QT: The transition is going to be a little hard because the program I was with before was a system that was a motion, with one play and that was it. Here, we have a lot of plays, so it's going to be a little more difficult to adjust to the half-court sets and stuff like that. I've got it down now, but it's definitely a different system. I mean, Chace (Stanback) had a little difficulty last year at first, but he got adjusted.

RG: I'm sure they'll cut you a little bit of slack at first ...

QT: Of course. They'll do that early on, but essentially, if I don't catch on completely, there are going to be consequences. I'll remember the plays. I know the plays. It's just little nuances, like all of the different options. I'm still getting that down, because all I did last year (in practices as a member of the scout team) was run other teams' sets.

RG: When you went out to Kansas, you went with a fellow New Jersey native in Tyshawn Taylor. When you came out here, did you kind of feel like you were by yourself? How long was it until you felt at home out here last summer?

QT: Well, the players on the team are cool. Either way, though, I've always been kind of a loner. Even when I was back home with my friends, I was kind of a loner. It wasn't that hard for me to adjust.

RG: Why do you prefer being a loner?

QT: I don't know. It probably stems from when I was growing up in Harlem. Of course, my mother didn't want me being involved with all of the little hoodlums or whatever, so I went outside and played and stuff, but I was real shy when I was young, so it kind of carried over. I'm not really shy anymore, but I have no problem sitting in a room by myself all day.

RG: Have you done a lot of that here? Or have you gone out and done some exploring?

QT: I've had fun with people. But I can't change my personality. I'm still, technically, sort of more ... I can't think of the word right now. But I'm a little more to myself than the other players are. But we all get along really well and go out and do stuff together.

RG: What's been the biggest difference between being in New York/New Jersey and being in Las Vegas?

QT: Well, one thing is the weather. This is terrible. My eyes are drying out, my nails are brittle now. But you don't sweat as much. The biggest transition has been the weather.

RG: If that's the biggest transition, then you're doing all right.

QT: Yeah. Everybody kind of assumes that the Vegas life would consume you, but once you live somewhere, it's not as big of a deal as when you're coming out for a weekend, you know?

RG: Exactly. Lets talk a little bit about your stopping point in-between — Kansas. Not necessarily talking about games, but in practices you went up a lot against Cole Aldrich, who was a NBA Draft lottery pick this week. How much did you learn there just from going up against him and some other pretty elite big men?

QT: Well, against him, especially, when we first got there, he literally blocked every single shot. You kind of got adjusted to the college level, because those first three or four weeks were embarrassing. But then, after that, you learn how to do it. In high school, I was probably one of the better leapers there were, but in college, all of the best leapers are in one area. So I had to learn how to not just dunk everything, but how to shoot and all of those other things. Pretty much, he helped me for the better, because I learned that I couldn't just post everybody up and dunk. I had to learn other things in order to be productive at the college level.

RG: So you got a lot of the initial growing pains out of the way before you even got out here, it sounds like.

QT: Oh yeah, the initial growing pains were long out of the way. There, that was a situation where nobody dunked in practice. It was blocked if you tried to. So it definitely helped me a lot and prepared me for college, I guess you could say.

RG: How about your recruitment after you decided to leave there? I know that UNLV was in on you the first time around. What made it such an attractive option? When you decided you were going to leave Kansas, was that one of the first schools you thought of? Or did they have to reach out to you? What went down with all of that?

QT: Initially, I didn't know. When they first contacted me, I was thinking 'OK, I don't want to come on a visit and just disappoint them again.' But then coach (Lon) Kruger made it clear that he wanted me to just come out and give it another shot. When I first decided to transfer, I was thinking I was going to go to Indiana, Pittsburgh or one of those schools. But then I realized that this was in Vegas, and before, it was a really huge program. When he showed me all of the players we would have here, I realized we could again be an elite program. Considering last year and this year with all of the guys we were adding, I knew we were going to be good. So I decided not to go down that road again and take a big risk — and I guess nothing you do is necessarily considered 'safe' — but the first time around, I liked this school, my mother liked this school, it was where she wanted me to go the first time around, so I figured because what I wanted to do didn't work out, maybe what she wanted to do would work out.

RG: You don't regret not coming here the first time, do you? It sounds like you gained something out of the experience you had.

QT: Now that I think about it, because I have sat down and thought about it, it probably didn't hurt going to Kansas the first time around and then coming here. I did learn a lot there, so I can use that to, I guess, help everybody else out with things that I know. I mean, I learned from (Kansas assistant coach and NBA veteran) Danny Manning. So he taught me a whole bunch of little tricks that he used in the NBA, so it definitely did help.

RG: Well, coming into this year, not a lot of fans have seen you play much. Everyone who saw you practice knows that you're a tough guy inside, you're going to be a good rebounder for this team, but what's something about your game that nobody knows, hasn't seen or wouldn't have seen yet?

QT: Well, it's funny, because everyone has this thinking that I'm a banger inside or whatever. I would have never necessarily said that before, but I am strong and I use it to my advantage. Pretty much, my post game, I can shoot pretty well from the mid-range and defensively I can guard most positions. I rebound well, so I'm going to rebound. I'm going to have a strength advantage every time I play, so I'm going to use it to my advantage. But I'm nowhere near one-dimensional.

RG: Last question, since a lot of people don't know what to expect, what are you expecting out of yourself this year in your first season playing in the program?

QT: Pretty much, I'm just going to go out there and do whatever I need to do for the team to win. We have Tre (Willis) coming back, Derrick coming back, Chace coming back, all of those guys. They need (the new guys) to do well for them to succeed. So pretty much, I'll do whatever I have to do for us to win.

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  1. QT will suprise everyone...he is the man!

  2. Great interview, very informative. QT sounds like exactly what UNLV needs this year. I have high expectations, and can not wait for the season to start. Looks like things are shaping up really nicely for the team.

  3. It was so frustrating last year to see our big guys in position to get a rebound, only to be muscled out of the way and out jumped. And then they'd only go after it with one hand to try to tip it to themselves.

    I have very high hopes that QT is the answer in that area. I've seen him do it in practice. Go up and grab a rebound WITH TWO HANDS, tear it down, and then explode back up strong to the rim. Hopefully he brings that aggressiveness in the actual games.

    QT and the rest of the big guys need to step up and decide they're not going to let teams like SDSU push them around and own the paint the whole game.

    Since Joel Anthony and Essengue graduated, any success UNLV has experienced has been in spite of the fact that the team lacked a serviceable, consistent big man.

    That needs to change for UNLV. And it needs to happen quickly or we're going to get left in the dust even within the MWC.

  4. Welcome. We're happy to have another fine young man to add to this team. Looking forward to seeing you show your stuff. Good interview.

  5. QT has given hope to Rebel fans who watched UNLV lose a few games because of their rebounding disadvantage. I would not be surprised to hear QT get a loud ovation from fans before he ever proves himself on the court. Thanks for transferring, and please encourage other strong, tenacious players to do the same!

  6. I want to give his MOM a big hug. She knew best from the start where her son would fit in. Lon knew where he would fit in. Between his mom and Lon they both knew he was a REBEL.

    I can't wait to see him play. This is the beginning of something special.