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Three days ago, Isiah Thomas was thinking about spending...

By PETER FINNEY, Jr., UPI Sports Writer

NEW YORK -- Three days ago, Isiah Thomas was thinking about spending the NBA season in a city where 10-gallon hats and electric bull-riding machines are about as plentiful as the sunshine.

That was back when Thomas still was being considered as the No. 1 choice of the Dallas Mavericks, who owned the first pick in the entire draft.

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Thomas, the 6-foot-1 point guard who led Indiana to the NCAA title last year, was chosen instead Tuesday by the grateful Detroit Pistons, who thought they had lost all hopes of obtaining Thomas when they lost a coin flip for the No. 1 drafting position to the Mavericks last month.

No one really knows why the Mavericks decided to select DePaul forward Mark Aguirre over Thomas, and Thomas certainly was just as dumbfounded.

'I can say this for a fact -- Mark Aguirre is a great player and he's a great person,' Thomas said of his fellow Chicagoan. 'There's not going to be another player like Mark Aguirre for a long time.'

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Thomas played just two seasons at Indiana but was immediately recognized as college basketball's premier playmaker. His penetrating style and excellent passing ability also were complemented by a gifted outside shot, and many experts had compared him favorably to Kansas City Kings point guard Phil Ford.

Until several days before the draft, the Mavericks had maintained they would draft on the first pick. But Dallas officials apparently became cool to Thomas when he reportedly expressed dislike for the cowboy-and-western image of the city.

'But that wasn't my comment,' Thomas said. 'No one ever asked me anything about Dallas. As far as Dallas people saying those things, I think there was a misunderstanding. I think words got turned around.

'Both organizations (Dallas and Detroit) have too much class to say something bad about me.'

Another possible explanation for Dallas' decision to select Aguirre over Thomas was a report that Indiana Coach Bobby Knight had downgraded Thomas' ability to Maverick officials.

'I've heard about that but I doubt it seriously,' said Thomas. 'I wouldn't ever question (Knight) about it because it would hurt him too much. I'll never believe it until I hear it from them (the Mavericks). It doesn't bother me because I don't believe it.'

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Thomas, who averaged 15.4 points and nearly five assists per game during his college years, said Knight had supported his decision to pass up his final two seasons of eligibility for going to the pros.

Thomas, who was named the Most Valuable Player in the NCAA Tournament when Indiana defeated North Carolina for the national championship this year, admitted he would have preferred to play for the Chicago Bulls or for a West Coast team. But he said he was looking forward to helping Detroit improve its 21-61 record last season, the second-worst in the NBA.

'I want to be in a situation where everyone likes each other,' Thomas said. 'Nobody's happy when they're losing.'

The All-America guard was a member of the U.S. team that won a gold medal in the 1979 Pan-American Games. He also started on the 1980 Olympic team that was 5-1 against NBA All-Star teams.

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