In a battle of Maryland high school powerhouses this past
weekend, the DeMatha Stags dominated Bishop McNamara with an 89-58
win in the 2023 Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament
With an array of three-pointers by their talented trio of senior
guards Jaden Winston, Mason So and Isaiah Arnold — and thunderous
dunks by the sole junior in the starting lineup, Malcolm Thomas —
the Stags ran away with the victory in front of a stunned crowd.
Nobody had predicted this outcome by that large of a
The win marks DeMatha’s fourth straight ACIT crown and its 27th
I caught up with Malcolm Thomas after the game to discuss the
team’s championship win, an up-and-down season, adjusting to a new
coach, his recruiting and much more.
(Photo Credit: Jonathan Spinks)
Etan Thomas: So your junior season has come to
a close. It was your first season under new head coach Mike Jones.
You all avenged regular-season losses against St. John’s and Bishop
McNamara, and now, you won the ACIT championship. How does it
Malcolm Thomas: "It feels good. We’ve spent all
season trying to put everything together. We had a tough two-point
loss in the [Washington Catholic Athletic Conference] tournament to
[St. Paul VI], but we had one more tournament to go. The final four
was all WCAC teams, and it feels good to end the season on a good
Etan: Everyone was talking about your matchup
with Donnie Freeman in the semifinals. College coaches kept talking
about it to me, fans were asking about it all weekend. This was the
head-to-head matchup everyone wanted to see. It was a great
overtime win — you had 18 points to his 15 — but talk to me about
that game and that matchup in particular.
Malcolm: "The DMV as a whole is very
competitive, and me and Donnie will be matching up again over the
summer during AAU and will match up again next season. I think it’s
great, and it’s fun to go back and forth with someone like that and
for people to be excited to see the matchup. We push each other and
that’s how it’s supposed to be."
Etan: There has been a lot of criticism of new
coach Mike Jones in his first year. It’s been an adjustment period.
I mean, this is your third coach in three years, so I don’t see how
anyone could expect there not to be an adjustment period. But
everything came together at the end with a decisive 30-point
blowout of Bishop McNamara. The entire gymnasium was shocked,
especially since they played so well against Gonzaga [DC] the game
before. But talk about that process of going through the ups and
downs of the season and the adjustment period and how you all grew
as a team.
Malcolm: "One of the biggest things Coach Jones
preached all year is that no matter what happens, make sure we are
always growing and always learning and getting better, and that’s
what we did. We started off well at the beginning of the year, took
a few dips as the season went on and we ended well. So we were able
to withstand the adversity and not crumble when things weren’t
going right, and that’s a credit to the leadership of our
Etan: You have a lot of talented guys coming
back, some that people may not know about. What can DeMatha fans
look forward to seeing next season?
Malcolm: "We have a lot of talent like you
said. And we had a lot of seniors on this team, so many of [our
players] had to take a back seat and wait and be patient, but
you’re going to see next year. Coach did this thing in practice
toward the end where he put underclassmen against upperclassmen,
and we won our fair share of games against the seniors. But yes, we
have a lot of talent coming back and they’re going to make a big
impact next year."
Etan: So let’s talk about you a little bit and
your growth this season. You won a lot of MVPs at different
tournaments the entire year. You’ve shown your ability to score
inside and out and your athleticism. You block shots with the best
in the nation. You led the team in rebounds, blocks and field-goal
percentage. You almost led the team in scoring — I believe you and
J-Win (Jaden Winston) were neck and neck.
But what are the things you want to keep adding to your game
this offseason? Coach Jones said that you are “one of the most
athletic players in the country." He emphasized that's not just in
the DMV, but in the entire country, and he said this was something
that shocked him and his coaching staff about you from Day 1.
Malcolm: "Well, I want to become the best
player I can in all aspects of the game both offensively and
defensively. I want to extend my game further out to the perimeter,
improve my ball-handling. (I want to) improve on being able to
guard 1-through-5 consistently no matter the lineup; coach has
utilized me in that way all season and I want to keep improving on
it, especially guarding smaller, faster guards on the perimeter
like JQ (Jeremiah Quigley) for Bishop McNamara, who is very good at
what he does — and that’s what I want to keep challenging myself to
Etan: So we’re in this new hybrid,
positionless-players era that you seem to fall under. You’re
6-foot-8. You can play the 5, but you’re not an old-school,
traditional 5. You can stretch the floor at the 4, and you can
drive from the three-point line and knock down the mid-rangers at
the 3. And like you said, you’ve guarded 2s and point guards at
times. What do you attribute that ability to?
Malcolm: "I think me playing with guys two
years older than me with the Dynamic Disciples my whole life
helped my growth. I was tall, but I never played center. I was
always guarding the perimeter. Also, I grew up playing soccer,
until I got too tall for it, so moving my feet was what I always
Etan: Let’s talk about recruiting. What is it
that you’re looking for in a school? Schools all make promises and
give their sales pitches as we’ve seen since recruiting started,
but what is Malcolm Thomas looking for in a school? Also, a lot of
people have assumed that you're definitely going to Syracuse. Five
people said that to me this weekend actually.
Malcolm: "I’m looking for a school that best
fits me and I would fit the best in. Of course, I grew up going up
to Syracuse since I can remember, watching games at the [Carrier]
Dome, seeing all the love you get when you go back there, so
naturally I grew up loving the school. I mean, both my parents went
there. But there are a lot of factors that come into play: My
personal connection with the coaches, with the players, the
environment, the school itself. I’m doing my homework. I’m not
going to go to a school because of an NIL deal or because my
parents went there. It has to be the right situation for me."
Etan: It’s easy to get caught up in the
flattery of recruiting. Everyone tells you how great you are
because they want you to come there, but I see so many kids going
to schools for the wrong reasons and they end up transferring
because it’s not the best place for them, which they quickly find
Malcolm: "Well, I’m thankful that both of my
parents have gone through the process and have prepared me for what
to expect and what to look for and what not to be flattered by.
That’s why it’s important for me to take my time and find the best
situation for me. So now that regular high school season is over
and AAU season is about to start, I’ll continue working on all of
the things I want to improve on with my game and research schools
and players who have played there and who are playing there, as
these different schools reach out to me as I have been doing. It’s
Etan: It’s interesting. You mentioned that you
wouldn’t go to a school because of an NIL deal, but that’s exactly
what is happening in this day and age. And of course, an NIL deal
doesn’t mean that’s the best place for you, and I think that’s one
of the reasons why you have so many kids in the transfer portal
Malcolm: "But also, you have to keep in mind
that a lot of kids are coming from situations where they need that
money right now. I’m blessed not to be in that situation, but
everyone’s situation is different, so I can’t knock them for it
being important to them. But for me, yes, NIL deals are nice, but
that’s not the determining factor for me personally."
Etan: That definitely makes sense. So here's my
last question: Who is your favorite player to watch? Who is someone
you would want to play like?
Malcolm: "That’s easy: Giannis. The way he
attacks the rim, people move out of the way when he drives to the
hole. He dunks everything around the basket, and powers in and uses
his length and strength. The way he has built up his body over the
last few years is exactly how I’m going to build up mine. His
three-point and outside shot is improving, and he is relentless on
defense. He can guard anyone on the court, whether they are a point
guard at the top of the key, the team's leading scoring 2-guard on
the perimeter or the team’s biggest strongest big man in the paint.
And he can bring the ball up the floor and initiate the
Etan: Does that sound a little familiar?
Malcolm: "Well, all of those are situations
that Coach Jones has put me in this past season and has reiterated
that he did that because he had the confidence that I can do all of
that. So yeah, that’s what I am going to keep working toward. To be
able to do all of that on a Giannis level. That’s my goal."
(Photo Credit: Jonathan