Chesapeake’s Cam Thomas makes his NBA debut on Tuesday for the Brooklyn Nets. He’ll wear No. 24 in honor of Kobe Bryant.

·4 min read

Cam Thomas will be wearing a familiar jersey number when he makes his NBA debut Tuesday night.

Thomas, a huge Kobe Bryant fan, will wear No. 24 when the Brooklyn Nets play the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks.

“He meant everything to me,” Thomas said recently. “I try to imitate him. I try to do all the moves he did, and his mannerisms. I just tried to be exactly like him. He’s had a real big impact on my basketball life and career, and how I play basketball. For me to have him as my inspiration is really big.”

Thomas, who played one season for Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, idolized the late NBA great so much that when he was in high school, he decorated his room to honor him, complete with purple-and-gold-painted walls, stickers and posters.

And in July, when the former LSU guard was drafted by the Nets with the 27th overall pick, he wore a sports coat — designed by Norcom High graduate Michael Fletcher to honor Bryant.

While being interviewed on ESPN at the draft, Thomas opened up his red sports jacket to reveal a collage of Bryant’s accolades, including his five NBA championships, the MVP trophies, NBA Finals award and Academy Award.

“That’s all my son knew since he was 6 or 7 years old was Kobe Bryant,” said Thomas’ mother, Leslie. “He carries Kobe in his heart and in his spirit. Everything is Kobe.”

Thomas originally started wearing jersey No. 8 — also worn by Bryant — during the NBA Summer League because another player had No. 24.

“Then that player got traded to another team, and that opened it up for Cam to get 24,” Leslie said. “Cam was so happy about it. Everything is a tribute to Kobe and what he’s meant to Cam.”

In his first NBA preseason game, Thomas got a chance to play in the Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers.

In just 22 minutes of action, Thomas scored 21 points to lead the Nets over the Lakers 123-97 in front of 16,000 fans in the house that Bryant built.

Thomas never let on about doing it for Kobe. He was just playing his game.

“It was just me going in there and playing basketball,” he said. “But it was cool to be in the same place that he was.”

Since the July draft, the 6-foot-5 Thomas has been impressive.

He earned Summer League co-MVP honors — along with Sacramento’s Davion Mitchell — and was named to the all-summer league first team.

In four games, Thomas averaged a tournament-high 27 points per game. He scored 30-plus points in back-to-back victories, including 36 in a win over San Antonio. His 36 points were the most scored in a Las Vegas Summer League game since 2018.

In four preseason games, he averaged 10.5 points and 2.5 rebounds.

His play prompted teammate James Harden to say Thomas is a more advanced scorer than he was at the same age.

ESPN draft guru Mike Schmitz said Thomas is one of a handful of players who will “contribute in a much bigger way than what their draft slots might indicate.”

“I think there’s some ground for him to make up, but we love him as a player and think he’s got a bright future, but it might take some time,” Nets coach Steve Nash told the New York Post. “He’s joined a pretty tough team to crack into.”

Former Virginia star guard Donald Hand Sr. has coached Thomas since the sixth grade, and Hand played AAU basketball with Bryant.

He sees the similarities.

“It’s the dedication and the focus of it,” said Hand, who attended the NBA draft with Thomas. “He just totally believes in his ability, no matter what other people said or what was going on around him. He also has a tremendous work ethic. He’s going to be productive because he’s great at what he does.”

Leslie Thomas said the past four months have been a “whirlwind.”

“He’s been learning from great veterans,” she said. “He’s learning and picking up things from them. He’s just waiting for opportunities to contribute to the team and show what he can do.”

Larry Rubama, 757-446-2273, Follow @LHRubama on Twitter.

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