Loyola center Thomas Welsh has led the Cubs to a No. 3 seed in the CIF Southern Section Open Division. The Redondo Beach resident will attend UCLA in the fall. Photo by Jerod Adams
For many years, Thomas Welsh has stood out among those around him but through hard work and perseverance, his notoriety has reached a national level.
Welsh, a resident of Redondo Beach, said he was 6-foot-2 when he was an 8th grader at St. Lawrence Martyr and grew to 6-foot-9 as a freshman at Loyola High School.
Now a senior, the 7-foot, 250-pound center on the Loyola High School basketball team was recently named to play on the West team in the prestigious McDonald’s All American Game to be held April 2 at Chicago’s United Center.
“I gained confidence and my ability and skill level improved as I grew into my body. Plus I’ve had a great coaching staff.” said Welsh, who began playing the sport in the Redondo Beach Youth Basketball League.
Not recognized as one of the top players in the nation during his junior year, Welsh’s selection came as a surprise to many.
“I was a little surprised to be selected to the team,” Welsh said. “It’s a great honor and I just want to keep getting better and show what I can do.”
Loyola head coach Jamal Adams is proud of Welsh’s accomplishment and admits he was a little shocked at the selection of a player who wasn’t even a starter during his first two seasons in high school.
“I was surprised but I was hearing that he was rising up,” Adams said. “There’s a level of politics involved but Thomas played well in front of the right people. There’s probably not a more unlikely player to make the team. For someone who came off the bench in his first two years in high school, it’s (his selection) a testament to his hard work. He’s definitely the most improved player I’ve ever coached.”
Adams feels Welsh made a name for himself with strong performances last summer playing for L.A. Rockfish, the longest running high school all-star club program in the Southern California area.
“Rockfish was playing a tournament in Las Vegas and I was in L.A. and kept getting phone calls,” Adams recalled. “People kept telling me how Welsh was dominating a game or playing other highly-recruited centers to a standstill.”
One of the opposing centers Welsh faced was Myles Turner of Texas, one of the nation’s highest sought recruits, who will be facing Welsh in Chicago as a member of the East team.
Welsh will share time with West center Jahlil Okafur, the consensus number one player in the nation from Chicago.
Since 1978, more than 1,150 players have competed in the McDonald’s All American Games including superstars Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love.
Welsh’s vast improvement also landed him a college scholarship, opting to sign with UCLA over UC Berkeley and Stanford prior to his senior season at Loyola.
“We absolutely needed size with this class,” UCLA head coach Steve Alford stated on the team’s website. “To get Thomas, a local seven-footer, to help anchor us inside is tremendous. He has been extremely well coached and gets better every time we see him. He’s an outstanding student and person who truly fits our program.”
But before Welsh starts his career with the Bruins, his focus is on the Cubs and winning a state championship with Loyola. Welsh said the thought of attending Redondo Union High School didn’t enter his mind.
“It’s been a family tradition to attend Loyola dating back to my grandfather,” Welsh said.
Loyola (24-2) is ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division 1AA along with being listed No. 2 in the state and No. 3 in the nation in the MaxPreps poll. Mater Dei is one spot ahead of Loyola in each of the polls.
Both teams could face each other in the newly formed Open Division, where 16 teams selected from the 11 regular-season divisions will compete for the ultimate championship in the Southern Section.
“Division 1AA is filled with great teams but all season our goal has been to win the Open Division,” Welsh said.
Adams believes with Welsh’s skill level and work ethic, Welsh’s future has unlimited potential.
“Since the McDonald’s announcement, Thomas’ confidence level has risen,” Adams said. “He’s a hard hat, lunch pail type of guy – a tireless worker and unbelievable to coach. He does a great job taking instruction and taking it to the game. You don’t have to tell him twice. He doesn’t want to be good, he wants to be great.”
Adams, who has high regards for Welsh’s parents, will be involved with the family for at least two more years.
Thomas’ brother, Henry, is a 6-foot-10 sophomore playing for the Cubs.
“He has the same mental outlook and work ethic as Thomas,” Adams said. “Henry’s still growing and his physical maturity is still to come.”
Whether or not Loyola wins a CIF or state title, it has been a memorable year for Thomas Welsh.
“Playing with Henry has been a lot fun,” Welsh said. “It’s the first time we’ve been on the same team.”