Thomas is the only WPIAL player this century to garner top-10 status as a national recruit, and the 6-4 shooting guard is doing more than enough to justify the hype. He was averaging 21.9 points going into the week, and he affects the game in so many different ways besides just scoring the basketball.
Depending on who you ask, though, Thomas might not even be the best player on his team.
Although he doesn’t quite have the same national standing as Thomas recruiting-wise, Brandin “Beebah” Cummings is Lincoln Park’s leading scorer at an average of 24.1 points — and he’s not worried about recruiting rankings, anyway. That’s because the 6-3 junior guard is already committed to Pitt, where his older brother, Nelly, is a redshirt senior averaging 10.4 points.
Although he has a game against Florida State on Saturday afternoon, Nelly Cummings was in the house at Beaver on Friday night to watch “Beebah,” Thomas and the rest of the Leopards dismantle the Bobcats in a 76-59 win. Thomas led all scorers with 25 points and pulled in 14 rebounds, while Cummings added 23 points and scored on a dazzling array of finishes in the lane.
Regardless of which player you think is better, there’s no denying the Leopards (14-1, 7-0) have one of the WPIAL’s best duos in recent memory — and they’re only getting better.
“I’m blessed [to play with Thomas],” Cummings said. “Me and Meleek have actually known each other for a while. We’ve talked about moments like these since we were kids. I always knew he had it in him.
“I think he’s the No. 1 player in the country.”
The game was a rematch of a hotly contested matchup won by Lincoln Park at home on Dec. 16, 78-76. Coach Mike Bariski said his players may have overlooked Beaver (11-3, 4-3) going into the first matchup, but he had no issue getting them properly motivated for Friday’s clash.
“There were no surprises now,” Bariski said. “This time, we understood what we needed to do. They’re a really, really good team, so we understood that they’re a really, really good team, and we played with some intensity.”
Thomas seized control early, scoring 9 points in the opening quarter while the Bobcats hung tight thanks to their balanced offensive attack. Beaver even took a 20-19 lead early in the second quarter, but a 13-0 run spearheaded by Thomas and Cummings opened the floodgates for the Leopards.
“[Thomas] has the physical gifts, obviously. But he also has the alpha-dog mentality,” Beaver coach Casey Kaiser said. “When you need him to take over, he does. … [Cummings] is a super-talented kid. I guarantee you they put a lot of time into the game that you don’t see off the court.
“When the moment calls for them, they’re there, and they have that clutch gene to them when it really counts the most.”
Lincoln Park took a 37-28 lead into halftime, then exploded for a 23-9 run after the break to blow the game open. Cummings appeared to have the ball on a string at several moments during the game, displaying superb handles while getting into the lane and finishing at will.
“It’s like [Cummings] has Gumby arms,” Bariski said. “He goes up to shoot it and it’s like they keep stretching.”
With Cummings clearly having the hot hand in the second half, Thomas was content to set up “Beebah” and the rest of his teammates for some easy layups on the fastbreak. Thomas also showed off his athleticism with a pair of high-flying blocks off the backboard, and both he and Cummings threw down dunks for good measure.
All in all, the game was just another showcase for arguably the best duo in the WPIAL and potentially two of the best players to come out of Western Pa. in recent years.
“Our guys all understand — when somebody is hot, give them the ball,” Bariski said. “They’re vary capable of sharing scoring like that or just feeding off each other.”
Of course, just because the Leopards have Cummings and Thomas doesn’t mean they are unbeatable. They may have believed so after a 12-0 start that included impressive victories against top-notch foes like Archbishop Wood, Laurel Highlands and Imani Christian, but a 54-49 loss at Central Catholic last Saturday served as a wake-up call for Bariski’s bunch — and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
With three WPIAL championships in the past five seasons and five overall at Lincoln Park, Bariski knows as well as anyone that sometimes losing can be a good thing. The pressure of going undefeated only grows as the season goes on, especially once the playoffs begin, so Bariski won’t complain about losing a close game on the road to one of the top teams in Class 6A.
As long as his team responds the way it did on Friday, that is — and three days after an 81-42 blowout win at Blackhawk.
“Some losses are good losses,” Bariski said. “Another one of these [championship] rings is always the goal.”
Cummings already knows the feeling of raising a championship banner, having starred in the Leopards’ run to a WPIAL Class 4A title as a freshman in 2021. Thomas is still searching for his first ring after falling short in the WPIAL semifinals last year.
If Friday night’s game is any indication, though, Lincoln Park’s superstar tandem will likely be adding to their jewelry collection sooner rather than later.
“Having dreams of playing on the same court, whether it’s high school or college … it’s a blessing,” Thomas said. “It’s time to really lock in. No more losses.”