Those accomplishments caught the eye of USA Basketball officials, who invited Thomas to participate earlier this month in the national team’s 3x3 training camp and tournament in Colorado Springs.
USA Basketball then selected Thomas and three others to represent the United States at the inaugural FIBA 3x3 World Championships in Athens from Aug. 23 to Aug. 26. Joining Thomas on the U.S. team are Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins, who also was first-team all-American, Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike and Connecticut’s Bria Hartley.
“It’s a huge honor to represent your country,” Thomas said, “especially with the people I’m playing with.”
Basketball’s global appeal is such that there have been preliminary discussions to include 3x3 competition as an Olympic sport, according to USA Basketball officials, perhaps by the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Three-on-three teams comprise three starters, one substitute and no coaches. The winner is the first to reach 21 points or be ahead when the 10-minute game clock expires.
A field goal is worth one point, and those made beyond the arc are two points. There is a 12-second shot clock, and each player is permitted four personal fouls before being disqualified.
“I think she’ll be a great representative,” Milt Newton, the Washington Wizards’ vice president of player personnel who served on the 3x3 selection committee, said of Thomas.
The selection process at the U.S. Olympic Training Center began with a skills challenge that included a three-point shootout, an obstacle challenge and a two-player shootout. Seven women’s teams then participated in pool play that preceded the medal rounds.
So skilled was Thomas’s team that on the first day it beat several men’s opponents.
In the gold medal game on July 8, Thomas and Diggins each scored seven points during a 21-10 victory over an opponent comprising players from the University of Denver. The quartet of Thomas, Diggins, Hartley and Ogwumike went 3-0 during the tournament.
“It’s just nice to be able to see [Thomas] get the recognition she deserves,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. “She’s been cut from USA Basketball twice before. Obviously she had a sensational sophomore season. All she does is work, and great things happen when you just continue to work. That’s what she’s always been about.”
Thomas had tried out for the under-18 and U19 teams with no luck, but rather than brood, she spent hours in the gym refining her jump shot and her physical fitness. Then she unloaded on opponents this past season with plays such as a block in the closing seconds to preserve a 63-61 victory over archrival Duke at Comcast Center.
In the ACC tournament championship game, Thomas collected a career-high 29 points in a 68-65 win against Georgia Tech that in large part helped Maryland secure a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Thomas, who has spent much of the summer training in College Park, is scheduled to go back to Colorado Springs in a month for three days of practice with her 3x3 teammates. She’ll then go to Athens for her first taste of international basketball.
“The greats have been on Olympic teams playing for our country and winning gold,” Thomas said. “To think one day maybe I could be there, it’s kind of scary to think about, but it would be a huge honor if I could get there at one point.”