The brothers were in high school and interested in playing for the Carleton Ravens. But Carleton coach Dave Smart — an assistant coach with the Canadian team on that trip — barely looked twice at the boys.
"They didn't look very good to be honest ... they were pretty gangly back then," Smart said.
Some seven years later, the brothers comprise the cornerstone of Canada's university basketball powerhouse and will cap their CIS careers at this week's Final 8 tournament.
Phil is a three-time CIS MVP, and both brothers have won the CIS tournament MVP award.
"Shows how much I know," Smart said with a laugh. "I would love to tell you I knew what the hell I was doing, but I had no idea. I didn't know if they'd be any good at all. I'd love to tell you I saw it, but I didn't."
Carleton tips off the tournament as the undisputed favourite, winners of 10 of the past 12 national titles. They went 17-2 in the CIS regular season, then edged Ryerson 84-80 and clobbered Windsor 103-59 to win last weekend's OUA conference championship.
Thomas and Philip, whose dad played for the University of Victoria and mom for Bishop's, grew up playing on the same youth teams in Richmond, B.C. Thomas, the older brother by 14 months, arrived in Ottawa first, but red-shirted his first season — hence, the two will graduate together.
If Smart didn't see much in the boys back in that first meeting in Vegas, he quickly picked up on Thomas's basketball IQ.
"The day he got (to Carleton), I knew," the coach said. "It's hard to miss the intelligence. Once he was there, I knew, the first or second day. It's hard not to be good when you have some athleticism and you're as intelligent as he is."
Philip, a left-handed guard, was already a gifted scorer when he arrived at Carleton. Thomas, a right-handed forward, who at 6-6 is three inches taller than Philip, took longer to develop — and it was clearly worth the wait for the Ravens, as Thomas fashioned a two-way game that has him leading the Ravens this season in points (17.6) and rebounds (7.6) per game. Philip is second in scoring (16.6).
"It's a credit to his work ethic," Smart said of Thomas. "Obviously they've had great careers. Phil's been a special player from Day 1 and win or lose, he's had an unbelievable career. And Tommy is probably the guy who's come the farthest ever in our program, from where he started to where he is now.
"It's been fun coaching them and they've got a lot of basketball ahead of them."
The Ravens took to the court at Ryerson University's Mattamy Athletic Centre for practice Wednesday, running through their drills like a well-oiled machine.
The Ravens have created a culture of basketball supremacy that has seen them dominate for more than a decade. They won five consecutive national titles between 2003 and 2007, and have won the past four. They also routinely beat NCAA squads in the pre-season, with wins this past fall coming against Vermont, University of Illinois, and Memphis (who they beat twice).
Carleton's two losses this season came to cross-town rival Ottawa (68-66) and Windsor (74-71).
The final buzzer will sound on the Scrubbs' CIS careers this weekend, but Smart said he won't get caught up in the emotions.
"They will play lots of basketball, they'll both be pros after this," said Smart. "People get too emotional about this. Phil and Tommy will be a part of my life for as long as I live, so why is the last game going to make that much difference, whether we win or lose?"
Carleton opens Thursday against No. 8 seed Saskatchewan. No. 4 Victoria plays No. 5 Dalhousie, No. 7 Ryerson faces No. 2 Windsor, and sixth-seeded Bishop's takes on No. 3 Ottawa.
A basketball court has been laid over what's normally Ryerson's hockey rink at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, which is also the basketball venue for this summer's Pan American Games.Suggest a correction