Lincoln Park’s Meleek Thomas named 2023 TribLive HSSN Boys Basketball Player of the Year

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Thursday, April 6, 2023 | 6:00 AM


2023 Boys Basketball Player of the Year

Meleek Thomas

Lincoln Park

6-4, sophomore, guard

When Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari visited a Lincoln Park practice this winter, he stressed the importance of having a good floater.

“He said to shoot a right-hand floater and a left-hand floater,” sophomore Meleek Thomas recalled. “He said to always have a floater, because defenders in the paint are usually a big man and have great size at the next level.”

Thomas already had a pretty good floater, but said he took Calipari’s advice as motivation to keep making it better. Fast forward to March 23 when Lincoln Park was tied with 11 seconds left in the state finals.

Thomas hit a winning floater that surely made Calipari smile. The Kentucky coach was sitting in the seats at Giant Center in Hershey watching the game.

“I just imagine what he thought when he saw it,” Thomas said.

Thomas has a drive to improve that’s second to none, said Lincoln Park coach Mike Bariski, explaining that if the 6-foot-4 guard misses a shot in a drill, he won’t move on with practice until he’s made that shot.

“He cannot miss a shot without getting it back and doing it again to make it,” Bariski said. “He can’t. If we’re involved in something, he’ll come back at the end of practice and shoot that shot again before he leaves.”

Said Thomas: “It’s just a drive to be great. A drive to perfect what I’m doing. If we shoot 10 3s and I make eight, I’ll hate it. It will irk me that I missed two.”

His combination of talent and dedication has Thomas ranked as one of the top sophomores in the country. This winter, that combination helped him average 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists per game as Lincoln Park went 30-1 and won WPIAL and PIAA Class 4A titles.

His success makes him the 2023 TribLive HSSN Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

“He has a high-end Division I/NBA motor,” Bariski said. “He never, ever stops. At practice, in games, in preparation, he’s high-octane 100% of the time. Not 99%. All of the time.”

Thomas had some of his best games in the biggest arenas. He scored 22 points in the state finals, a 62-58 win over Philadelphia power Neumann-Goretti. In the WPIAL finals, he contributed 25 points and 14 rebounds to a 78-68 victory over North Catholic at Petersen Events Center.

He and junior Brandin Cummings, a Pitt recruit, formed arguably the top tandem in the state. The teammates combined to average 48 points per game.

Since the winning the state title, Thomas added scholarship offers from Xavier and Michigan to a list that already included Pitt, Penn State, Bryant, Indiana, Kansas State, Missouri, St. John’s and Villanova.

His AAU season in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League starts later this month and runs into the summer with weekend tournaments in Georgia, Arizona, Texas, Tennessee and South Carolina.

This is his second year in the EYBL.

Thomas isn’t the only basketball player in his family. Older brother Shawndale Jones, who played at North Hills and Kiski School, earned NCAA Division II All-American honors this winter at IUP. Another brother, Jayden Thomas, was a senior starter this winter for North Hills.

TribLive HSSN had a chance to find out a little more about the player of the year in a Q&A session with Thomas:

Have you watched video of your game-winning shot?

Many times.

What did you see?

The defender was playing my right hand a lot. I went right, did a quick between left, swiped his hand off and got past him downhill. I practice my runner-floater a lot. So when it left my hand, I knew it was good. It was just amazing. When it dropped, I can’t even explain how it felt. I’m a state champion.

Is there a college or pro player that you like to watch and learn from?

I take things from a lot of NBA players. (Jayson) Tatum’s mid-range and how he can create space and just hit shots. Devin Booker’s mid-range game. Ja Morant. And new players like Bones Hyland, who plays for the Clippers, and his first step is downhill. He plays fast. Just a lot of different players that I eventually put all into one.

Is playing in the NBA your goal?

Yes, sir.

What is it about you and Cummings that make you two a good duo?

It’s because of our bond. I know a lot about his game and he knows a lot about mine. And I know him well off the court. I think that’s what separates us on the court. We have a bond that’s strong, so when we step on the court I know he’s got my back and he knows I’ve got his.

How is EYBL different than WPIAL basketball?

The speed, the physicality, the size, the length, the atmosphere. It’s a high level. Every college coach you could think of is in the gym.

Do you have a plan for your recruiting process?

No. Schools will eventually start asking me to take visits when I’m a junior and they’re allowed to talk to me. I’m just taking visits at the right time and will see what schools have to offer me.

ESPN ranks you as the fourth-best sophomore is the country. What’s your reaction to those rankings?

It’s just a blessing. I used to pray about things like this. Just to be recognized this much. A lot comes with it, but I want everything that comes with it.

Besides food and water, what are three things you’d want on a deserted island?

I’ve got to have my phone. I’ve got to have a map so I know where I’m at. I hope I can put shoes and clothes as one.

I once saw you carrying three pairs of shoes after a game.

I love shoes. I love clothes. I love fashion.

How many pairs of basketball shoes do you own?

Probable like 13.

Do you pick based on the game?

Yeah, I do. Based on how I’m feeling that game.

What shoes did you pick for the state championship?

I wore my EYBL Kevin Durants.

What are your three favorite meals?

I can always go with a hamburger and fries. A chicken salad or steak salad or a regular salad with ranch. The third is a tie between pasta and seafood.

If your team had a talent show, who wins?

I say me. I just rap something.

Should high school basketball have a shot clock?

I think so. It shows the real strength of a team. When a shot clock is running down and you have to run a play, how are you going to execute it? You can’t stand at the top of the key and just pass it back and forth.

• • • • •

2023 TribLive HSSN Postseason Awards

Girls Head of the Class

Boys Head of the Class

Girls Terrific 10

Boys Terrific 10

Girls Player of the Year

Boys Player of the Year

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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