Julius Thomas made the jump from Portland State University power forward to record-setting NFL tight end in the span of three years.
Thomas and other hoop-to-helmet success stories like Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham could inspire teams in this year's NFL Draft, which begins tonight in New York.
Former Gonzaga basketball player turned Baylor defensive back Demetri Goodson and undersized Miami Hurricanes power forward Erik Swoope might be the best candidates to make the transition, though both are considered longshots to be drafted over the weekend.
Thomas, who went to high school at Tokay (Lodi, Calif.)
, averaged 10.8 points per game as a senior at Portland State during the 2009-10 season. After wrapping up his basketball career, the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder walked on to the Vikings football team and caught 29 passes for 453 yards and two touchdowns in his only season of eligibility.
The Broncos took notice and made Thomas their fourth-round draft pick in 2011. He made his breakthrough with the franchise last season, hauling in 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns – the most ever for a Denver tight end.
So who is the next Julius Thomas?
NFL scouts can thank us later for identifying 10 of the top current high school basketball stars who have the goods to give the gridiron a go:Malik Beasley, St. Francis (Alpharetta, Ga.)Class:
6-3, 175Basketball accolades:
A top guard prospect in the 2015 class, Beasley averaged 19.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game for Georgia's Class A state champions as a junior. He's running with the Georgia Stars of Nike's EYBL this summer. Gridiron projection:
Fast, quick, explosive and sudden all apply to Beasley. It's easy to imagine this uber-athlete as a big play wide receiver.
Leland Green, Redondo Union (Redondo Beach, Calif.)Class:
6-2, 180Basketball accolades:
Averaged 12.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2 steals per game as a sophomore for one of California's top programs. Regarded as a Top 100 prospect in his class by some media outlets.Gridiron projection:
The aggressive, athletic guard has a bright basketball future ahead of him, but he would be a menace in the defensive backfield. Tadric Jackson, Tift County (Tifton, Ga.)Class:
6-2, 210Basketball accolades:
The Georgia Tech signee led the Blue Devils to a 29-3 record and Class AAAAAA state title as a senior. He earned a spot on the MaxPreps All-American Team.Gridiron projection:
This one was easy. Though he gave up football to concentrate on hoops early in his high school career, Jackson was considered one of Georgia's top quarterback prospects following promising freshman and sophomore campaigns. Reginal Johnson, Richwood (Monroe, La.)Class:
6-4, 235Basketball accolades:
A near-miss for MaxPreps All-American honors, "Monsta" was Louisiana's Mr. Basketball as a senior after putting up 32 points and 15 rebounds per game. He will play hoops at Alcorn State.Gridiron projection:
With a nickname like Monsta, Johnson's transition to the football field would have to begin at defensive end. If he went after quarterbacks the way he goes after rebounds, opposing offensive linemen would have their hands full.Stanley Johnson, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)Class:
6-6, 230Basketball accolades:
The future Arizona Wildcat was the MaxPreps National Player of the Year this season. He helped the storied Mater Dei program win four state titles.Gridiron projection:
One of the more physically imposing true guards to ever play high school basketball, it's tempting to float him as the next Antonio Gates/Julius Thomas/Tony Gonzalez tight end. But we like the idea of him becoming the next Barkevious Mingo – a rangy outside linebacker/defensive end combo with blow-by speed and athleticism.Luke Kennard, Franklin (Ohio)Class:
6-4, 200Basketball accolades:
Nothing major, really. He just averaged 40 points per game as a junior and then committed to Duke. Gridiron projection:
The scoring sensation actually played quarterback for Franklin last fall, throwing for over 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns while leading the Wildcats to a 9-2 record. He was considered a high-level prospect as a signal caller as well, with an early offer from Louisville before basketball became the focal point.Quadree Smith, Potomac (Oxon Hill, Md.)Class:
6-6, 290Basketball accolades:
He's still weighing several Division I offers, as Smith averaged 13.3 points per game as a senior for Maryland's Class 2A state champions.Gridiron projection:
A massive, mobile mountain of a young man, Smith could hold down the blind side at left tackle or serve as a plug in the middle of the defensive line.
Caleb Swanigan, Homestead (Fort Wayne, Ind.)Class:
6-8, 265Basketball accolades:
One of the top 2016 prospects in America, Swanigan is coming off a 2013-14 campaign that landed him a spot on the MaxPreps Sophomore All-American Team.Gridiron projection:
Swanigan gained early attention for football but has elected to concentrate on hoops. If he were to reverse course on that decision, college programs would be lining up for the opportunity to add him to their offensive or defensive lines.Jared Terrell, Brewster Academy (Wolfeboro, N.H.)Class:
6-3, 220Basketball accolades:
A bull in the backcourt, Terrell is expected to choose between Boston College and Rhode Island in the near future. He's played at a high level in the NEPSAC post-grad landscape for several years.Gridiron projection:
He stands out on the hardwood due to his linebacker build. No need to get creative, give him jersey No. 40 next fall at Boston College (the same number worn by former Eagles linebacker Luke Kuechly) and show him where to line up.Reid Travis, DeLaSalle (Minneapolis)Class:
6-7, 235Basketball accolades:
One of the more decorated and successful players in Minnesota history, Travis led the Islanders to back-to-back state titles as a junior and senior.Gridiron projection:
If Travis doesn't find the Stanford basketball program to his liking, perhaps he could become the latest in a recent line of star tight ends for the Cardinal. He played quarterback at DeLaSalle.