Words by Ian Stonebrook
Tim Thomas is regarded by many as one of the greatest high school hoopers ever.
Funny enough, he wasn’t even the top ranked player in his tri-state area.
Graduating in the spring of 1996 with only one prospect ahead of him -- some steak-named swingman from Italy -- Thomas would put the NBA on pause and jump from Jersey to nearby Villanova as the freshman focal point for the Wildcats heading into the 1996-97 season.
Standing tall at 6’10, Thomas was long and strong, with a move bag and hot-hand that didn’t quite have a pro comp even among All-Stars. Coming from a city and generation too tough to deem themselves unicorns, Thomas was definitely 'different' than those that came before him and a high production preview of what would come after him.
Ahead of his time in wonder and one-and-done status, Thomas wasted no time making his mark on the Big East by bringing home conference Rookie of the Year honors in his sole season. A standout in basketball’s most historic conference and on a team with five future NBA Draft Picks, Thomas proved toast of it all, being named First-Team All Big East as a freshman by putting up just shy of 17 and 6 a night.
Not only was Tim’s game loaded and futuristic, his shoes were, too. Rocking the Nike Air Max Uptempo ‘97 during his freshman campaign in Philly, the new Nikes were symbolic of Tim himself. From the metallic teardrop sidewall to the abundance of Air, the wavy Uptempos gave off a tough but jiggy aesthetic straight out of a Bad Boy video directed by Hype Williams. The forward thinking sneakers wore well on the forward of the future, paired perfectly with Villanova’s new Nike shorts.
Less loud and more mature than the Kerry Kittles color pop of seasons before, the new Nova uniforms were focused on font and trim for a look as smooth as Thomas himself. In their first season with Nike, Villanova’s aesthetic shifted and their program ascended. This would prove true in appearance and AP polling.
For years to follow, the blends of blue and stencil logo laid on the likes of Kyle Lowry, Scottie Reynolds, Mike Nardi, Josh Hart and a host of hoopers. Nets would be cut down in numerous NCAA tournaments and Philadelphia would once again be the promised land for prep basketball.
Looking back, the shift for Villanova saw its highest profile moment in their 1996-97 uniforms worn by their phenomenal freshman. Sported in highlights from Tim Thomas with his otherworldly Uptempos, the 96-97 Nova shorts prove a moment in the past that still feels like the future.