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Thomas sisters excel on UNLV, Arizona basketball courts

All it takes is one question to get an idea of how competitive it was growing up in the Thomas household.

Who’s the best?

It’s not an easy question to answer, considering all three Thomas sisters are playing Division I basketball — Bailey and Jade at UNLV and Sam at Arizona — unless you ask them directly.

“I’d have to say myself. I’m the oldest. I taught them everything they know,” Bailey said.

“I’m going to say me, because my team is a little bit better, and I have something to do with it,” Sam said.

“I hope I will be,” Jade said. “I’m a freshman, so I have a lot of growing to do. But I’m going to hold that spot for me.”

The competitive spirit runs in the family. Their father, Derek, played basketball at Missouri-St. Louis and is a longtime coach, including a stint as an assistant at UNLV. Their mother, Julie, played volleyball at St. Louis University, where she also played a year of basketball.

Add in their younger brother Shane, a junior at Durango High who also has Division I aspirations, and the backyard three-on-three games got heated.

“What’s funny is we wanted to prove it on defense,” Sam said. “None of us cared if we scored, we just cared about stopping the other person. Bailey is a great defensive player, so it was hard to score on her. I tried to do the same and not let her score on me.”

That defensive focus helped Bailey earn the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year award last season, while Sam was on the Pac-12 all-defensive team last season and is evidence of the onus Derek put on teaching them to play the right way.

That means fundamentals like shooting the ball well and playing hard-nosed defense, but also being coachable and a good teammate.

“They’re very composed and poised players on the court,” UNLV coach Lindy La Rocque said. “I’ve watched Sam play a lot, and she has the same composure. They’re not too emotional, but they’re very competitive and focused.”

The family moved a lot because of Derek’s coaching career, but finally settled back in Las Vegas in Bailey’s senior year of high school. The Thomas sisters helped build a dynasty at Centennial High, with Bailey winning one, Sam two and Jade four Class 4A state championships.

While the Thomas sisters grew up obsessed with basketball, they also have interests off the court. Bailey signed with West Virginia out of high school because she wanted to join the FBI, and its training center is located near Quantico, Virginia.

She quickly learned that career path wasn’t for her and changed her major to accounting. Sam majors in psychology and Jade in journalism, all of which matches their personalities.

Bailey is reserved and sophisticated, Sam said, and Jade is a social butterfly. Sam fits in the middle with an analytical side while also having had Jade’s social tendencies rub off on her since they shared a bedroom most of their life.

Balance on, off court

While Derek passed along his love of basketball, Julie provided balance.

“I think having the balance between my mom and dad helped me grow,” Jade said. “Dad was really into basketball, and Mom was more like, have fun, do what you want.”

As competitive as they are playing against one another, the sisters also are the biggest cheerleaders for each other. They’re also helping Shane along his path by sharing their experiences and letting him know they’ve set a standard.

“We tried to beat him up as much as we could to make sure he’s tough,” Sam said.

Arizona is ranked No. 10 by The Associated Press at 11-2 overall and 9-2 in the Pac-12. UNLV (7-6, 5-3) could be alone in third place in the Mountain West with a win over UNR on Saturday after being picked ninth in the preseason.

Sam, a senior, leads Arizona with 15 blocks and is second with 23 assists and 29 steals. Bailey, UNLV’s only senior, leads the team with 60 assists and 25 steals and averages 10.7 points as the point guard. Jade is the top 3-point shooter at 35.1 percent and averages 9.7 points. This is the first time Bailey and Jade have played on the same team.

“It’s awesome. You’re happy when your teammate scores, but when it’s your sister, it’s a proud moment,” Bailey said. “I love watching her grow over the season, getting more mature, hitting her shots. She’s become an amazing player.”

But which of the Thomas sisters is the best?

“I’m not touching that one,” Derek said, laughing. “I have to live with them for the next 50 years or so.”

Contact Jason Orts at jorts@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.

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