Detroit is the "Motor City."
And yet Jamal Thomas's motor was practically idling when he played basketball in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac.
It took a move to Illinois for Thomas to be able to kick his motor into high gear, and then an "a-ha moment" happened.
Thomas, a 5-foot-10 senior point guard at Grayslake North and one of the best returning players in the area heading into the 2016-17 season, realized that he was pretty good at playing fast basketball. And that he really liked it, too.
"At my school in Michigan, we played a lot of set plays and it was a slow-down game. It was one of those offenses where you would look to the coach for every single play," Thomas said. "It was frustrating sometimes, and a lot of guys felt like they weren't able to be themselves.
"Then, I got to Grayslake North and the coaches let us run up and down, and go fast. I really liked that style."
The coaches certainly liked that style on Thomas, who moved into the district two springs ago.
He left Oxford High School in Pontiac in March of 2015 when his mother Stephanie was transferred for her job with Volkswagen. Thomas finished out the last couple months of his sophomore year at Grayslake North and made an immediate impression at open gyms with his speed.
As a junior last year, Thomas was a starter on a 24-4 team that competed for the Fox Valley Conference title and advanced to the regional championship. Thomas averaged 18.8 points, 5.8 assists and 5.2 rebounds.
"Jamal is the fastest kid with a basketball that I've ever coached or coached against," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh said. "In his first practice with us, we were like, 'Holy Cow, how lucky did we get?'
"One of the greatest things about his game is that even though he's really fast, he's got so much control with the ball. Last year, we were seven to eight games into the season before he had a turnover off the dribble, all while getting 8 to 9 assists per game. Jamal is just so good with the basketball and I think our style fits him perfectly. He's having a lot of fun here."
Now he is. Not surprisingly, Thomas wasn't thrilled with the idea of a move at first.
He was a sophomore at a high school in which most of his classmates were kids he had gone to kindergarten with. Leaving those long-standing social circles was painful.
"I was a little emotional about it," said Thomas, a starter on the basketball team at Oxford during both his freshman and sophomore years. "It's hard because you have great bonds with those people. To move six hours away was tough. I felt like things were going pretty good for me in high school and then I had to pick up everything and move."
But Thomas made friends quickly at Grayslake North. And not because people knew he was a stud basketball player.
"Jamal is one of the nicest human beings I know," Grunloh said. "You'd never know he's a basketball player and that he's really good. He's just so humble and so nice and so respectful, and people love him. Teachers come up to me and tell me what a tremendous person he is. They say they love having him in class.
"Kids love him, too. He treats the best player on the team to the 13th player to the managers all like best friends. He's just so nice."
But make no mistake: this nice guy doesn't finish last, in sprints, or in just about anything that has to do with basketball.
"Jamal is also very competitive too. Don't let his niceness fool you," Grunloh said. "He's got a little fire to him. He can be very competitive. He works hard and he wants to win. But he does it the right way and it's always with a smile."
Thomas says that his mom and dad (Amon) emphasized manners and a friendly disposition when he was younger. Helping others was also important.
"My parents and grandparents raised me to say please and thank you and to open the door for people, to just be nice," Thomas said. "I think I carried that over into high school.
"I'm very caring and I like listening to people's stories and helping them out. I'll try to go out of my way to make someone's day better."
That mentality works on the basketball court, too.
"I try to go out of my way to get an assist that will help someone score," Thomas said. "I'm a pass-first player because of that. But as I've gone on, I also like using my speed to get to the basket. That's where I can be really deadly."
So buckle up, Grayslake North fans. Now that Thomas has been able to kick his game into high gear, he's ready to take you for a ride."
• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw