Cameron Thomas’s perspective is as simple as it is astonishing: He can’t be disappointed by something he’s never experienced, he says.
In fact, the LSU guard feels it’s par for the course that in his freshman year, when he’s obliterating the competition to the tune of 24.6 points a game (good enough to be ranked in the top six in the nation in scoring), no one seems to be noticing thanks to the wacky roller coaster that is the college basketball season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, no, he’s not hearing the spirited roars of the 13,000-plus fans at Pete Maravich Assembly Center, seeing playbacks of his scoring prowess on nightly sports shows or being talked about as a legitimate contender for National Player of the Year.
“Good thing I don’t need that stuff,” says Thomas, who will lead the Tigers (6–2) against Georgia (7–1) on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET. “It doesn’t bother me, it motivates me. I’ve always been overlooked.”
The irony is that Thomas hasn’t just always been consistently good—he’s been consistently dominant.
For example, this isn’t even the first time he's been a freshman scoring leader.
Thomas averaged 23.7 points a game as a freshman in 2016–17 at Oscar Smith (Va.) High School and led the state in scoring. He transferred to national powerhouse Oak Hill (Va.) Academy as a junior and pumped in 26.4 points a game for the Warriors despite playing alongside Cole Anthony, who was widely regarded as the top overall player and most lethal scorer in his senior class.
That summer, Thomas led the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League—by far the toughest summer shoe circuit in the country—in scoring at 29.5 points a game before becoming Oak Hill’s all-time leading scorer with 2,219 points.
“I am a really confident scorer because I work really hard to perfect it,” says Thomas. “That’s the only thing that I can actually control. The other stuff doesn’t mean as much to me; I can’t worry about the recognition.”
Thomas learned that lesson vividly this time last year, when he got snubbed for the McDonald’s All American Game after averaging 31.5 points a game for the No. 2 team in the country.
“That hit me kinda hard,” Thomas said. “It just showed me even more not to focus on the accolades, just the work. Missing the McDonald’s game motivated me so much. I look at it now like a blessing.”
Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said Thomas is “on a very short list” for the best to ever play at Oak Hill, a big endorsement since Smith has coached 33 McDonald’s All Americans, including Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.
“He’s not cocky at all, but he knows no one can stop him,” Smith said of Thomas. “He knows it. He’s got a confidence about him that is really rare because it doesn’t thrive off of emotion. He’s the quietest star to that level that I’ve ever had.”
That much was evident last week, when Thomas dropped a career-high 32 points in the Tigers’ 77–54 SEC-opening win over Texas A&M.
Not once in his 34 minutes on the court did Thomas scream or yell or soar through the air for sweat-soaked chest bumps. He simply made shots.
LSU coach Will Wade says that Thomas’s poker face may be his greatest asset on the court.
“He’s got a stone-cold demeanor in a great way on the court,” says the Tigers' coach. “You can’t tell if he’s made eight threes or if he’s missed his last two threes because he’s always even keel. That’s hard to contend with for the opposition. He has no conscience about scoring; good or bad, it’s always on to the next play. He’s the most consistent freshman I’ve seen.”
That quickly earned Thomas the respect it takes to have the shots to be the No. 6 scorer in the country (No. 3 among players who have appeared in at least three games) and the only freshman ranked in the top 50 in scoring. The Tigers are stocked with veteran talent like Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford and Darius Days, yet they not only defer to Thomas, but they also celebrate in anticipation on virtually every shot he takes.
“It means a lot for those guys to have that level of confidence in me,” Thomas says. “At the end of the day they know I’m doing everything I can for us to win. That’s all that matters to me. I score, that’s what I do; I try and do it to the best of my ability so we can win. My teammates and coaches understand that; I don’t care who doesn’t notice it.”