Some called them the best forward combination to ever play in the North Central Conference. John Egan, longtime sports editor of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader wrote: "Who's better, Dave or Lee? Who's got the best chance in pro ball? Which is the better scorer, rebounder, feeder, defensive player? The questions are academic, really, because Jim Marking had Dave AND Lee. Thomas and Colburn, that is, and they had amazingly similar senior seasons for South Dakota State's Jackrabbits.”
The duo of 6-foot-6 South Dakota natives — Colburn from Brookings and Thomas from Hitchcock — were inducted in the Jackrabbit Sports Hall of Fame at the Festival of Champions October 2, 1999. Colburn and Thomas wrote an impressive book of statistics in their four-year careers. Colburn was a three-time all-District 5 selection, while Thomas was honored twice. They finished number one and three among the all-time Jackrabbit scorers, Colburn with 1,822 points while Thomas had 1,355. They were also first (Colburn) and second in career rebounds. Both tried out with teams in the National Basketball Association. Colburn was a third-round draft choice of the Houston Rockets while Thomas was a free agent with the Portland Trailblazers. Both survived until the final cuts.
Colburn ended his career as SDSU's all-time leader in scoring and rebounding. But more than scoring or rebounding, Colburn is probably remembered for his exceptional speed, body control and twisting-turning layups.
The Jacks have never had another one-two punch with the numbers put up by Colburn and Thomas in 1973. Thomas had 10 more points for the season, 571-561. Those numbers still rank eighth and ninth among the all-time single-season point totals in Jackrabbit history. In NCC play that season, Colburn won the scoring title with a 23.3 average while Thomas was second at 22.7. Thomas was second in the NCC in rebounding, at 12.7 (behind USD's Chuck Iverson at 13.7) with Colburn third at 12.2. Colburn led the team in scoring in 1971 and 1972, Thomas led in 1973. Colburn led the team in rebounding in 1971; Thomas led in 1972 and 1973. During that period, SDSU was 22-4 in 1970, 15-7 in 1971, 17-8 in 1972 and 18-8 in 1973. The Jacks were in the NCAA playoffs in 1970, 1972 and 1973. Thomas was the Most Valuable Player in the 1973 NCAA regional while Colburn was also on the all-tournament team. Thomas was also NCC Most Valuable Player that season.
Colburn earned all-conference three times (1971-72-73), Thomas earned all-NCC twice (1972-73).
Thomas had one of the great individual performances in SDSU history in the championship game of the 1973 regional against Coe College. He set the SDSU single-game scoring record, with 44, and also had 26 rebounds. He also set an SDSU record, which still exists, for field goals in a game, with 20. SDSU lost to undefeated Coe 107-104. For the season, Thomas shot 53.3 percent from the field (234-of-439), while Colburn shot 52.9 percent (217-of-410).
Both played on state championship teams in high school, Colburn on the Class A title team as a junior at Brookings in 1968, and Thomas on the Class B champ as a senior at Onida in 1969.
Thomas, who earned an NCAA post-graduate scholarship at SDSU, is now a doctor at Central Plains Clinic in Sioux Falls, Thomas received his medical degree from the University of Colorado-Denver. After a stint in the military, he moved to Sioux Falls in 1988. Thomas and his wife, Nancy, have three children. When Dave graduated, it ended a string of nine consecutive seasons in which the Jacks had a Thomas in the lineup. His brother, John, was inducted into the SDSU Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.