Catching up with Illinois radio analyst Deon Thomas

Catching up with Illinois radio analyst Deon Thomas

Deon Thomas just wrapped up his second season as the radio analyst for Illinois basketball and a studio analyst for Big Ten Network. The all-time leading scorer in Illini history discusses his burgeoning media career and what's next for Illinois:

How do you feel your broadcasting career has gone so far?

I think I've improved each year. A large part of that is the people that I work with. Brian Barnhart has been tremendous. He's made my transition in radio a lot easier, and radio and TV are different. Also having mentors to lean on like Steve Bardo and Jess Settles at Big Ten Network. I've enjoyed the transition from playing to coaching to being an analyst because I also feel it gives me a different way of viewing the game.

What's your main takeaway from this past Illini season?

I think a lot of it really applies to this year because (Illinois coach Brad) Underwood and his staff had to replace eight players. It's really going back to square one, but my biggest plus would be the uptick in recruiting (and) the players that have come in — Tevian Jones, Alan Griffin and, of course, Ayo Dosunmu, and no one knew about Giorgi (Bezhanishvili). I think Coach Underwood and his staff have done a tremendous job of finding players that are and look like Division I players. They don't just pass the eyeball test.

Can you compare Kofi Cockburn to anyone that played at Illinois?

There's hardly a comp for that young man in the Big Ten. You'd almost have to go back and compare him to a player in the SEC like Shaquille O'Neal with his size. He doesn't have the athletic ability of Shaquille O'Neal, but with that size and his just raw talent and power, there hasn't been a player like him. He is definitely a new breed of player for Illinois and the Big Ten. I want to see what he does with his body and how he comes in and really his attitude on how he gets better and how he wants to fit himself in. He's coming in with a lot of fanfare. It's always that first thing to see is how he comes in and how he presents himself with the team.

How important is roster continuity this offseason?

That's probably the biggest thing. You look at teams and wonder why year in and year out you have the Michigan States, the Michigans and the Wisconsins of the Big Ten that are always at the top of the heap. It's because their players are older and their players have stayed in the system. They understand their roles — not to mention how they've matured physically and mentally. That continuity is of the utmost importance for a young Illinois team. To have all of those guys back and get a full offseason of preparation in the weight room with (strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher) as well as working on their skill with the coaches, I'm expecting a totally different team.