Jersey native Lance Thomas looking to stick with the Knicks
The 26-year-old Thomas, born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, rooted for the Knicks while growing up and moved to Scotch Plains, N.J. when he was five.
With just 25 games remaining on the schedule and the New York Knicks roster mostly barren of NBA talent, these remaining few weeks become a try-out of sorts for the players remaining and actually playing for Coach Derek Fisher. One of those guys is Brooklyn-born swingman Lance Thomas, who New York acquired in January as part of the Dion Waiters-Iman Shumpert-J.R. Smith deal. The 6-8, 225-pound forward isn’t a scorer, or a dominant athlete, but his work ethic, energetic defense and coach-ability stands out.
The 26-year-old Thomas, born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, rooted for the Knicks while growing up and moved to Scotch Plains, N.J. when he was five. After attending Scotch Plains Fanwood High School for two years, Thomas transferred to Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School, leading his team to consecutive Prep-A Division New Jersey State Titles. While there, he flourished under the tutelage of ex-Seton Hall standout Danny Hurley, the brother of former Duke Star Bobby Hurley, who also helped produce the likes of J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson and Samardo Samuels.
“Coach Hurley was amazing,” said Thomas, who was named to the 2006 McDonald’s All-American team and has a map of New Jersey tattooed onto his right biceps. “That was probably the best coach that I’ve ever had. He really put that fight in me and it was just great to play for him.”
Even though that’s where Thomas transformed into the type of player he is today, he helped refine his game by playing for another pretty good coach in Mike Krzyzewski. During his senior season, he was named a team captain along with Jon Scheyer and the Blue Devils went on to win the 2010 NCAA title. Coming out of Duke, where he played for Coach K, four years after playing for the son of arguably the best high school basketball coach in the country – Hurley – Thomas brought plenty of intangibles to the table, but didn’t hear his name called in the 2010 NBA draft.
He joined the New Jersey Nets for Summer League and in November he was selected in the second round of the D-League draft by the Austin Toros, where he averaged 12.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. The following summer, he was named to the U.S. team for the 2011 Pan American Games, a squad made up of D-League players during the lockout. The bronze medal showing by the USA was the U.S. men’s first medal in a Pan Am Games since 1999 and for Thomas, who has been part of the USA Basketball program since he was 17, the experience was invaluable.
Since it was the only meaningful basketball being played at the time with the lock-out going on, it caught the attention of NBA decision-makers. In November, he was re-acquired by the Toros and a month later he was invited to the Hornets training camp prior to the shortened 2011-12 NBA campaign. Unfortunately, Thomas was one of the final cuts and he once again returned to the Toros. But the Hornets wouldn’t keep him in the Capitol City for too long, calling him back up a little over a month later and Thomas turned a pair of 10-day contracts into a spot for the rest of the season.
During his first NBA offseason, Thomas spent time defending the likes of LeBron and Kevin Durant as he was named a member of the USA Select Team. He spent parts of the next two seasons with the Hornets and appeared in 106 games for the now-Pelicans over three seasons, averaging 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in limited action. When the team released him in November of 2013, he decided take his talents to China for the rest of the season and it was a decision he doesn’t regret.
“China was a good and competitive league,” Thomas told me in the Knicks locker room. “It gave me the chance to get more confidence back from my offensive game and work on the things I needed to do to get back to the NBA.”
After averaging 26.1 points and 10.1 rebounds in 16 games for the Foshan Dralions, the former Blue Devil was determined to make it back to the NBA. In September, the Oklahoma City Thunder signed him on a training camp contract and he made the squad after a strong showing in the pre-season. He started at the outset of the season because of the bevy of injuries, averaging 5.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in 20.5 minutes over 22 games, including 13 starts. But as the team got healthy, Thomas lost his spot in the rotation and became expendable.
After being traded to the Knicks he was waived, only to re-sign on a pair of 10-day contracts. He has made the most of his opportunity and is posting a career-high 9.1 points and 3.5 boards in his latest stop close to home. He is in a tough position because of his size and skill set. He is too small to play power forward, doesn’t possess the skills to play small forward and his jump shot isn’t the prettiest. But he knows that hustle and hard work goes a long way.
“People who really know the game, they know what type of effect that has on the game and teammates,” said Thomas, who brings energy, effort and defense to a Knicks team in dire need of all three things. “I’m not looking for a pat on the back all the time for it, but it’s something that I bring every time.”
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