Thomas, a wiry 6-7 small forward from Scotch Plains-Fanwood H.S. in New Jersey, did nothing to sully that status on Saturday night at the Rumble in the Bronx. In fact, he may have only bolstered it.
Thomas erupted for 24 first half points (he scored 24 of New Heights' first 36 points) and tallied 32 in a 75-67 victory over D.C. Select. The victory earned New Heights a first place finish in Pool A and a slot in Sunday morning's GOLD division quarters.
Thomas scored in almost every conceivable manner in the first half, save the three-point shot. He sauntered past defenders along the baseline for easy deuces, banged a number of high arching midrange jumpers and finished the break when needed.
Simply put, he was everywhere.
But the beauty in Thomas' game lies in his stunning efficiency. He's a crisp outlet passer who often fans the break after grabbing a defensive rebound, and he's also an alert passer in the halfcourt set, finding teammates for easy deuces when defenders collapse on him.
While he's a versatile player blessed with many skills, Thomas is far from complete. He still needs to add considerable strength to his 195 pound frame, and he must also work on stretching the range of his jumper beyond 15 feet and out to three point land.
Thomas handles the ball a bit around the low post, using his quickness to get by defenders in just one or two dribbles. The next extension will be for him to be able to comfortably handle the basketball further away from the bucket, easing his eventual transition to the three slot.
Even though his numbers tailed off in the second half, 6-9 power forward/center Vernon Goodridge helped New Heights clinch the game late with his offensive and defensive prowess.
Thanks to Thomas' eruption, New Heights had built a 43-33 lead late in the first half.
D.C. Select fought back thanks largely to 6-3 bull in a china shop forward Christian Jackson of Archbishop Carroll H.S. in Washington, D.C. Built somewhat like Roman Catholic (PA) star Charron Fisher (headed to Niagara in the fall), Jackson is also a football/basketball hybrid who physically pounds defenders on the basketball court.
Jackson is diesel strong going to the hole, and he earns quite a bit of shots from the foul line. Thanks to his 29 point effort, D.C. Select erased the double digit deficit and grabbed a 57-51 lead midway through the second half.
That's when Goodridge raised the level of his game, wreaking havoc on the defensive end (swatting away several D.C. shots) and scoring in the low post. A midrange jumper by Thomas and a pair of free throws from Goodridge capped a furious 16-4 New Heights run that gave them a 67-61 lead.
D.C. Select pulled to within in 68-66 on a trey by Jackson with :47 remaining, but could get no closer the rest of the way.