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Mr. Laz
02-06-2005, 12:52 PM
Posted on Sun, Feb. 06, 2005

http://www.kansascity.com/images/kansascity/kansascitystar/news/Sp6_BillyThomas.jpg
The Associated Press
Billy Thomas (left) and Jason Kidd enjoyed
the Nets' 107-85 victory over the Pistons
Saturday. Thomas played 21 minutes and
scored five points.

NBA a reward for ex-Jayhawk
DAVID BOYCE

Billy Thomas had plenty of reasons to give up on ever playing in the NBA. He plugged on anyway.

Sure, Thomas, who played on some great Kansas teams during 1994-98, came tantalizingly close on several occasions.

But those rejections only made another missed opportunity to reach the NBA more painful.

He played on the New Jersey Nets' summer-league team in 2002 and 2003 and appeared in seven preseason games with the Washington Wizards last fall.

Thomas turned 29 on Dec. 23 and had worn many professional basketball uniforms, but never an NBA jersey during the regular season.

“I've played in the Philippines, Argentina, Italy,” Thomas said.

He also competed in just about every minor-league basketball organization in the United States: the NBDL, CBA, USBL and IBL.

Minor-league basketball is far worse than baseball — no structure. Leagues sprout up and go under in a season. Few fans come out, and sometimes players don't know if they will be able to cash a paycheck that's smaller than a full-time fast-food worker's.

It's easy to look at current Kansas City Knights players Jeff Boschee and Joe Crispin in the ABA and wonder why they don't give up the NBA dream, put their college education to use and enter the real world of a 9-to-5 job.

What Thomas recently accomplished easily answers the question.

Through faith, perseverance and as much hard work as anybody who left a college campus straight to a steady 9-to-5 job, Thomas realized his goal Jan. 20, 2005, when the New Jersey Nets signed him to a 10-day contract.

All his struggles just made it even more worthwhile.

Thomas is an NBA rookie at the age of 29, and he's proud of the road he took to get there. It strengthened him, he said. It made him stronger mentally and physically.

“I'm on Cloud 9,” Thomas said Thursday by phone. “I feel I'm being rewarded for my patience, hard work and prayer.”

“I believed I would make it. I had strong faith, a belief in God and was blessed that I was good enough to do it.”

Thomas, who scored 1,152 points at KU, is making the most of this opportunity. He did well enough in his first 10-day contract that he signed another with the Nets.

He has a few days left on the second contract and hopes it turns into something more permanent.

“I'll know in (four days). I'm doing everything to gain the coaches' trust,” Thomas said.

It seems to be working for Thomas. Instead of being parked at the end of the bench, Thomas is playing, averaging 19.8 minutes in eight games. In the Nets' 110-89 loss to Boston on Wednesday, Thomas scored a career-high 13 points.

The game was like a second mini KU reunion for Thomas in the last two weeks. His first NBA game was against Boston, which features former KU teammates Paul Pierce and Raef LaFrentz.

Former KU point guard Jacque Vaughn starts for the Nets, and having Vaughn again as a teammate has helped Thomas acclimate to life in the NBA.

“Any question I have, he will answer it,” Thomas said. “Jacque is nothing but the consummate professional. He's a great teammate to have.”

It's understandable why Thomas would have many questions. Life in the NBA is vastly different from minor-league basketball.

“It's a couple of steps above what I ever thought the NBA was like,” Thomas said. “The travel, the hotels, the playing facilities … it's been crazy.”

Because of all the ups and downs, rejections and near misses just to reach his basketball goal, one thing that's certain is Thomas will appreciate every day he's in the NBA.

Many people consider life in the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball as fantasy worlds. Thomas is in that world now, but he has a very good understanding of what the real world is like.

To reach David Boyce, sports reporter for The Star, call (816) 234-4745 or send e-mail to dboyce@kcstar.com

Spott
02-06-2005, 09:57 PM
Speaking of ex KU basketball players, I got to see Hinrich play in person yesterday down in Miami against the Heat. He's turned out to be a pretty good NBA player. He had to have played damned near all of the 48 minutes and he never stopped going full speed. I hope the Bulls hold on to him to for a while and get some more players around him that can complement his talents.

I gotta admit, it was a little weird cheering on Hinrich and booing Keyon Dooling, who now plays for Miami.

Lzen
02-07-2005, 10:20 AM
Nice piece. I had forgotten about Billy Thomas. Glad to see he's doing well right now. Hopefully, some team will see a guy who really wants to play amongst all the other spoiled NBA players.

HC_Chief
02-07-2005, 11:47 AM
Billy had the fastest trigger on the trey I've ever seen. Good to hear he finally broke into the NBA :thumb:

Ari Chi3fs
02-07-2005, 11:53 AM
KU has like eleventy Billion NBA players now. We r0x0r.