FAYETTEVILLE -- The TVs are off. So are the lights. The shades are closed. Sometimes, even during the day, Arkansas forward Charles Thomas needs to escape, needs to reflect. His apartment quiet, he grabs a Bible, reads awhile and then prays.
Thomas often says thanks for the 67 minutes that changed his life, 67 excruciating minutes he spent on April 21 in the Washington County Jail. Earlier that afternoon, Thomas had engaged in a physical dispute with an ex-girlfriend.
"Everything happened so fast," Thomas said. "And it didn't hit me until I was in jail. I had hit a wall in my life. A lot of people bailed on me, and I knew right then I had to turn my life around. So I turned it over to God."
About six months later, Thomas is still in the midst of "life-saving change." But those fans who show up for Arkansas' exhibition opener tonight will see a new man starting at power forward for the Razorbacks.
He has lost 26 pounds in four months. He has six-pack abs for the first time in five years. And he has joy in his heart.
"Charles has changed the most since I've been here," Arkansas first-year coach John Pelphrey said. "No question. From where he was as a human being, from where he was body-wise, it's truly cool to see the way he's changed, the way he smiles."
The 21-year-old senior traces the turnaround back to his arrest, which Thomas addressed this week for the first time during an interview with The Morning News.
Recalling that troubled afternoon is easier for him now that his court case is settled. Thomas pled guilty to assault in the second degree on Sept. 19, Fayetteville city prosecutor Clinton K. Jones said. He paid a $250 fine and faces 20 days of community service.
With his darkest day now in the past, Thomas has decided to focus on a brighter future. In fact, he embraced that outlook the day after returning from jail. That Sunday, reality sunk in. Fellow senior Vincent Hunter visited Thomas' apartment that day, as did Thomas' friend from a communications class, Jay Martin.
They convinced Thomas he was capable of moving past the incident, of restoring his life.
"Those two guys were there for me, and I'll never forget that," Thomas said. "I couldn't see that (I could change) at first. I felt bad for myself, for the program. I was, and am, so sorry for what happened, and I didn't know what to do."
A spiritual reawakening soon followed and jump-started his transformation. That week, Thomas sought out Marcus Carruthers, a former minister who works with Arkansas athletes in outreach situations.
"He was coming to me and I was coming to him," Carruthers said. "I wanted to help him. But before the words came out of my mouth, Charles was like, 'Look, I have to get things right in my life.' And that's where it started."
Thomas was baptized a week later. All that week, Pelphrey asked Thomas to call him every day. And every day, Thomas called. Thomas also spoke to Arkansas assistant coach Rob Evans on a daily basis.
"It just shows that they care about my well-being," Thomas said. "That was so important at that time."
Carruthers said Thomas' mother, Lynda, also deserves credit for her son's stability during that eventful week. She raised him in a safe, spiritual home, Carruthers said, "laying the foundation" for Thomas' religious rekindling.
She even traveled frequently to Fayetteville, allowing Thomas to spend time with his 2-year-old daughter, Mariah, who lives with his mother in Jackson, Miss.
All that support helped Thomas concentrate on what he always thought he'd focus on this past summer: basketball. He worked on his outside shooting and improved his ball-handling. But most of all, he burned calories and grinned as the weight fall off.
Pelphrey's new system required that Thomas return to his high-school body type. In actuality, Thomas used to be an athletic, small forward. During the summers, "he could hit 3-pointers from anywhere and he could really create matchup problems," said Larry Stamps, Thomas' AAU coach.
Pelphrey has some of the same hopes for Thomas and knew major weight-loss was needed. So with the help of strength coach Kelly Lambert, Thomas shed the pounds. He still takes conditioning seriously.
"Sometimes at 11 at night, I'll just throw on a sweatshirt and start running," Thomas said. "Oh, and I'm really watching what I eat. I eat six small meals a day. It's hard. I lived at The Catfish Hole my freshman year, but now I never go there."
Coaches and teammates marvel at Thomas' new physique. But they embrace his new attitude, his new outlook on life, even more.
"We were sitting together in the Cancun airport after playing (in early September)," Evans said. "And I couldn't help but notice how at ease he seemed. He was telling me about going to church and different things. I said, 'You're in a really peaceful place in your life right now, aren't you?'
"He said, 'Yes coach, I am. I'm so happy.'"
A far cry from his 67 minutes in Washington County Jail.
Thomas Returns This Season A New Man
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