Jamel Thomas' Beautiful Struggle

When you think of Jamel Thomas, chances are you think of a basketball player who has the ability to soar high above the rim… can knock down three pointers with ease… and runs the floor like a gazelle. Chances are you don't think of an author. Think again.

Most Providence College basketball fans remember Jamel Thomas for many things: his jaw dropping three pointer from the corner with just seconds left as a sophomore to tie the game against Arizona in the NCAA Elite Eight… his otherworldly 38 point performance against Villanova to will Providence to victory as a senior… his 1,971 career points or maybe his First Team All-Big East selection as a senior.

As a 6'6, 215 pound swingman from Lincoln High and Coney Island in the heart of New York City, Thomas thrilled Friar fans with his athletic, aerial game that at the same time was based in solid basketball fundamentals. Thomas could jump but he could also knock down jump shots from all over the court and bury free throws. To watch Jamel Thomas play basketball was to watch a player who at times made the game look easy.

Except that basketball, like life, is never easy. The fans who appreciated all of Thomas' moves on the court could never know what he had overcome to reach that point. Now, Jamel Thomas has decided to tell his story.

"The Beautiful Struggle" is the name of Thomas' new book, his first foray into writing and self-publishing. The title, in part, refers to the struggle to overcome the hand that life sometimes deals you.

"I lost my mother at the age of four," says Thomas. "I've been struggling mentally since then. There was so much to overcome. I had asthma, there was drug dealing where I grew up, the environment was tough."

Despite the hardships, the title "The Beautiful Struggle", also refers to something else.

"The beautiful part is that I'm still alive and here to tell this story," continues Thomas. "The beautiful part are all of these people willing to help. My aunt, the Bravermans, Mr. Russo and others. Everybody has their own beautiful struggles. It doesn't matter if you're filthy rich or poor. If you miss someone, someone you loved, or maybe the death of a friend or family member. Everybody can relate to this."

After graduating from Providence in 1999, Thomas went undrafted despite a spectacular senior season which saw him average 22 points per game and earn all league recognition. Thomas did get a couple of short trials in the NBA, in 1999-00 and 2000-01, with Boston, Portland, Golden State and New Jersey, but failed to stick. "When I went undrafted, it was very political," says Thomas. "It's all in the book, if people are interested in finding out what happened. I never got the option to come back (and play in the States). There were some camps and summer leagues where I played well, like in Cleveland, but I was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

And so Thomas took his game to Europe. "I played in Turkey, Italy and Greece," Thomas says with no regret. "Greece is the most recent. There's two Americans per team in Greece, three or four per team in Italy. I led a couple of leagues in scoring in Italy and in Greece. I haven't won a championship yet, but I'm working on that. Five out of seven years, my teams have made the playoffs."

The transition to the European game was difficult, but also helped to develop Thomas' game. "It's similar to college. You can play trick zones to take away team's top two or three players. But these are older men. It's tough to get to the basket. There's no three second violations so you have to be more witty with your game. I've gotten a lot better, especially with ball handling. But I can still run and jump with the best of them. I probably don't jump as much as I used to because its more of a halfcourt game in Greece. There's more running in Italy because its more athletic in Italy."

Still, playing professional basketball abroad is never guaranteed. "I'm at home now waiting for a deal. It looks like I may be going to play in the Phillippines next. I'm only thirty-two. I plan to keep on playing. It looks like I'll be heading out there to play ball in about two weeks."

At thirty-two, Thomas is no longer the teenager who arrived at Providence College. "I bought a house in Pennsylvania," says Thomas. "And I got married a year and a half ago to a Brooklyn girl. They gave me the key to Brooklyn," he says with a chuckle.

Writing has always been in Thomas' blood and he doesn't intend to stop. "This is new to me. But I've always been able to write and I always wanted to tell my story. The time was right. I just had to get the blessing from my parents." Laughing, he concludes, "I'm a poet from Coney Island. All of us are poets from Coney Island. Next I want to write a book called ‘Voices of Coney Island'." Clearly, Jamel Thomas is someone who will never forget where he is from or who he is. The author's signature on his new book is J.A.M.E.L. The letters not only spell Thomas' first name, they are initials standing for Just Ask Michele Erica Lenore. Michele was Jamel's mother's name, Erica the name of the aunt who took him in, and Lenore the first name of Mrs. Braverman, who also helped to raise him.

Thomas will have a book signing in the next week or so on Coney Island and former Friar Justin Acker has agreed to help Thomas promote his book on the East Coast. For anyone interested in purchasing a copy of "The Beautiful Struggle", go to www.jamelthebook.com.

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