River Hill senior Charlie Thomas' basketball dreams became a reality on Tuesday night.
After a recruitment process that had picked up steam over the last four months, the 6-foot-7 forward made the announcement that he has committed to play collegiately at the University of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin, which plays in the Big Ten and had offered Thomas a scholarship during his official visit to campus in late September, is coming off a Final Four appearance a season ago.
"Ever since I was a little kid, I always dreamed of playing high-major DI basketball," Thomas said over the phone Tuesday evening. "And even though I didn't get recruited by those kind of teams until this summer, I just kept pushing myself every step of the way. I knew in the back of my mind that this was possible as long as I played hard every time I went out on the floor."
Thomas had narrowed his list to three finalists — DePaul, Rutgers and Wisconsin. His final official visit was to DePaul last weekend.
"I encouraged Charlie to go through the process, take his visits and then we could sit down and weigh the options," said River Hill boys basketball coach Matt Graves, who met with Thomas and his family for a few hours Tuesday night before the decision was announced.
"I think, at the end of the day, Wisconsin was the perfect fit for him," Graves said. "He kind of fits the bill of how Wisconsin plays, in that they give their big guys an opportunity to both post up and also shoot the three. The pace of play for them is eerily similar to how we play."
Thomas said he felt a chemistry with the Wisconsin players and coaches.
"It was a great experience going up there and it made me realize that's where I want to be," he said. "There was just a great vibe around the team, and I thought I connected with everyone extremely well."
Thomas averaged 20.2 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks a game as a junior. But it wasn't until the late spring and summer that he says the high-level colleges began expressing significant interest.
"I knew going in there that if I played well coaches would start taking notice. I went in with that mentality where I was going to show them what I could do," he said. "Everything kind of picked up after that."
Thomas is planning on officially signing during the early-signing period that starts Nov. 12. He says he wants to have the recruiting process behind him by the time the high school season starts so he can focus on helping the Hawks push toward their goal of reaching the state Final Four for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
Graves said it's a big signing not just for Thomas and the River Hill program, but for Howard County as a whole.
"Greg Whittington going to Georgetown out of Oakland Mills a few years ago was huge because it was the first of that magnitude in quite some time, but considering where Wisconsin is as a program right now, this may be even bigger," Graves said. "To have a Howard County kid going to that level team … you almost have to pinch yourself a little bit."
Thomas said the brighter spotlight won't cause him to lose sight of the support he has received.
"I would like to thank God, my family, all my coaches and all the people that have helped me in the process to get me to where I am today," Thomas said. "I'm super excited about my decision, but I also want people to know that this is just the beginning."