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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Billy Thomas giving NBA one final shot

Former Kansas University basketball player Billy Thomas.

Former Kansas University basketball player Billy Thomas.

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Bill Self might want to make a way-early scholarship offer to one Zion Thomas, a 3-month old shooting guard out of suburban Kansas City.

“He has an athletic body already,” gushed Zion’s proud papa, former Kansas University shooting guard Billy Thomas. “He doubled his weight and grew five inches in his first two months. He’s got big hands and feet like me.

“He’s already on his way. He’ll start where I finish,” Thomas added with a laugh.

Billy Thomas, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound two-guard who played at KU from 1994 to ’98, is nowhere near ready to call it quits on a pro career that has included short stints with the NBA’s New Jersey Nets, Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers.

He’s also played in Greece, Italy, Serbia and Argentina and in U.S. minor leagues CBA, IBL, USBL and NBA Developmental League.

“I think at a high level I can hopefully go another three years — until I’m 36. Then if somebody wants me to hang on their team six more years, I’ll think about it,” the 33-year-old Thomas joked. “I highly doubt I’ll go past the next three years.”

For Thomas, his wife Raquel, and Zion ... next season may mean another trip overseas. He played three months in Greece in 2008-09 before returning to the U.S. and leading the Colorado 14ers to an NBADL championship.

“It’ll be back to Europe if it doesn’t work out this year,” said Thomas, who last played in the NBA for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007-08. “For me, this is my last NBA-go, but not my last year playing. If the NBA doesn’t work out, of course I’ll go back to Europe.

“We (he and agent) are working on possibly doing that,” he said of playing NBA summer league ball. “At the same time, at my level, my experience, I’m thinking summer league is mostly for young guys. We’re working on getting in a veterans camp and maybe individual workouts with an NBA team.”

Thomas — he averaged 16.1 points, 3.7 assists and 3.4 rebounds a game for the 14ers — has never expressed frustration about not sticking in the NBA.

He played 25 games with the Nets in 2004-05, 17 with the Wizards in ’05-06 and four with the Nets in ’07-08 before signing a 10-day contract with the Cavaliers on Feb. 22, 2008.

On the night of his signing, Thomas scored nine points off 3-of-11 three-point shooting in 19 minutes. Impressed, the Cavs signed him to a second 10-day contract on March 3, 2008 and a final contract on April 16 that extended through the playoffs.

Thomas logged eight minutes over three playoff games. He hit one three and recorded a rebound, steal and assist.

“Everybody gets on a youth movement, then they get young guys and sit them,” Thomas said.

“I am not complaining,” he stressed. “I’ll keep working. Hopefully this is the summer things work out for me. I feel as good as I’ve felt in the last three years. I’m never one to be satisfied. I always have felt I can do better. I think my consistency is better than it was three or four years ago.”

Thomas is a legend of sorts in the NBADL.

“To show how fortunate I was ... I was considered one of the best players in the league the first year of the league,” said Thomas, who led Greenville to the 2002 championship. “To still be considered one of the best seven or eight years later ... it’s a testament to some good fortune and working hard.”

He’s been able to make a good living while playing overseas and in the minor leagues.

“I’m learning to be. I’m getting better at that,” Thomas said of saving his earnings. “I’m very fortunate to be a homeowner, to do a lot of things guys my level have not done. I’m not where I want to be. It’s why I continue to work.

“Happy? I’m OK, but not satisfied.”

Thomas said he’s planning on making his annual appearance at Bill Self’s basketball camp the second and third weeks of this month. He’s hoping some of his fellow KU basketball alums also return to play in the Wednesday camp game against members of KU’s current team.

“It’s hard sometimes to get schedules worked out. Jacque (Vaughn) played the one time. I don’t know what Scotty (Pollard) is doing. He may be itching to play since he didn’t last year. That (Pollard) size helps against those young (KU) kids. It makes it a lot easier for me (to shoot threes),” Thomas added with a sinister laugh.

He loves to come back to Lawrence whenever possible.

“I’m very proud,” Thomas said of KU’s performance last year. The Jayhawks won the Big 12 regular-season title and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAAs despite losing all five starters from the national title squad of 2008.

“I’m disappointed they lost. I’m sure they were disappointed. But I’m one of the people who thought they overachieved with Sherron (Collins) and Cole (Aldrich), the only experienced guys. I thought they had a great chance to move past Michigan State. Some things happened late in the game. But I was impressed. I thought it was one of coach Self’s best jobs since he’s been there.”

Comments

Rick Willard 11 years, 6 months ago

Thanks for the article, Gary. What a great guy! I saw Billy play here in Denver for the 14ers a few months ago, and he was just terrific...obviously, he's a very good player...he was great with the fans during warm-ups & after the game...just a solid guy. Good luck to Billy and his family. Hope to see him in an NBA arena next year.

panalytic 11 years, 6 months ago

It was good to hear an update on Billy Thomas and good to hear he is coming back again for the basketball camps. I saw two televised games when he was playing for Cleveland and he played well. Sounds like he has been doing well, and I hope he gets a nice fat contract somewhere before his playing days are over.

lance1jhawk 11 years, 6 months ago

Good luck Billy. You are a great player and deserve another shot at the NBA.

Billy, you are going to be a great dad, and I can't wait to see your son bombing three balls in a Jayhawk uniform.

Michael Bratisax 11 years, 6 months ago

I would also love to see his son in a Jayhawk uniform but as I am approaching 50, I can wait!

ku98 11 years, 6 months ago

I used to play with and against him at Robinson in the summer back in 99-00, and that is when I realized the gap between bona fide D1 college players and guys like me who thought they could have been D1 players. :) He is a great guy.

100 11 years, 6 months ago

LJW -- fantastic.

Give some more guys a call for a quick interview.

Lafrentz?

Pollard?

Stallworth?

Valentine?

Lovellette?

Pierce?

Dreiling?

Pritchard?

Monty Johnson (for stories on Wilt & Roy)

Jacque?

Jerad Hasse?

waywardJay 11 years, 6 months ago

100, why stop there.....

why not track down Luke Axtell, Lester Earl and Pekka Markinennen also....

Eric Schneider 11 years, 5 months ago

Glad to hear that Billy's life is going so well. Very few KU players came from more difficult circumstances. But Billy was always positive. And man could he fill it up when he got hot.

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