Monday, May 5, 2014

Yorktown Product Thomas Decides On St. John's

Keith Thomas had a major decision cooking on his front burner.

The 6-foot-8 forward loved his visit to Loyola-Chicago. He loved the fact that Loyola-Chicago was the first of countless Division-I programs to express interest, sustaining its loyalty throughout the process. A loyal Loyola it truly is.

At the same time, Thomas knew he'd have the opportunity to be a vital interior cog at nearby St. John's.

Thomas' reputation as a workhorse, a gym rat who Westchester Community College coach Tyrone Mushatt references as his "NAVY SEAL," appealed to a St. John's program eager to build up the front court.

After methodically chopping down his list and making various campus visits, Thomas officially committed to St. John's on Monday afternoon.

Fordham, like Loyola-Chicago, also hounded Thomas until the very end. It was a close call all the way through.

"Loyola, I loved Loyola, that was a hard decision to make," said Thomas, who spearheaded a Steve Veteri-coached Yorktown to a Section 1 Final Four with high-rising guard Jordan Moody back in 2009.

"That was one of the hardest things I had to do in a long time."

 Just 15 miles up the road, the Johnnies were scouring the land for a versatile threat of Thomas' caliber.

 Though Thomas intended to visit Miami this past weekend, an 11th hour cancellation, Mushatt said that Fordham and St.John's were using their powers of persuasion to keep the 23-year-old freshman in New York.

SJU won the 2014 KT sweepstakes.

“It’s in New York, why wouldn’t I [commit]?" Thomas told recruiting guru Adam Zagoria of

 “They was two games away or a few games away from getting to the [NCAA] Tournament. They got a good backcourt and there’s a lot of minutes there for me. I live right in New York, so I gotta eat in New York, so why not?”

 A deft-passing big man who provided a collection of double-doubles, Thomas shot a scalding 60 percent from the floor in the month of January. Thomas' production skyrocketed in February, when he averaged 20.3 points.

A 29-point eruption on 13-for-14 shooting against Harcum opened eyes while simultaneously evoking drool from NCAA coaches across both seaboards. Thomas blitzed Orange County Community to the tune of 22 points on 10-for-11 shooting.

Against Baltimore City Community, during the final game of the regular season and with the steady Division-I interest heightening, Thomas dropped 28 points and tore down 17 boards en route to a 82-70 win.

 The interest piled up, as programs such as Florida State, Wright State, Memphis, Miami, Fordham, and South Florida inquired and heaped offer sheets.

Following a 13-point, 11-rebound, and four-assist performance during a wild, 101-99 2OT loss to Wallace State in the JUCO national tournament, Thomas earned the notice of Dayton, Arizona and Wichita State.

 Newly-minted South Florida coach Oliver Antigua, who played under head coach Gary DeCesare with Mushatt at St. Raymond's, made a late pitch.

 Antigua and South Florida appear hell-bent on netting Thomas' Westchester teammate, Vikes guard/forward Luis Montero.

The past few days, Mushatt had hinted that SJU may be a tailor-made fit for the multi-faceted big man. Aware that Thomas would be one of few homegrown products on SJU's roster, Mushatt told Thomas he could "own that school." Thomas is originally from Mount Vernon, N.Y.

Revitalizing his career following a significant sabbatical, Thomas averaged 15.3 points and an NJCAA-leading 15.7 rebounds, leading the Vikes to a 28-4 overall record and first JUCO National Tournament berth since 1996.

"He was so consistent this year, but what I really like about Keith is he takes no prisoners on the court," said Mushatt, who played at WCC himself in the mid-1990s.

"There were some games against lower level competition where could have cruised. He could have said 'Oh, this is going to be a cupcake game.' He didn't take anything for granted. He gave everything in every game."

St. John's will hope for a similar impact. Thomas has the attributes to earn meaningful minutes from the beginning. His presence in the paint provides depth alongside menacing shot blocker Chris Obeka and Christian Jones.

Nabbing Thomas is instrumental in Steve Lavin's quest to strengthen the frontcourt. Lavin recently scooped up 6-foot-11 beast-amongst-boys Adonis Delarosa (Christ The King HS), who has shredded away at the 300-pound frame he played at this winter.

Thomas was once the young kid in the stands, watching with a hawk-like gaze as his uncle, former Mount Vernon guard Randy Brunson, won a Section 1 championship alongside Ben Gordon with the Knights.

Frequently engaged in afternoon-long pickup games at Solaris in Yorktown, Thomas discovered a newfound love for the game. He professed this interest to Mushatt in the fall and was put to immediate use following tryouts. He is stoked with growing confidence, which manifests itself during high-pressure moments.

Being flanked by top-notch talent helped Thomas blossom into a highly-touted recruit. Managing the Vikes' high-powered attack was Bronx product Giovanni MClean, third in the nation in assists with 7.4 dimes per game.

McLean, who has interest from Eastern Illinois, Texas State, Missouri, Oklahoma, as well as St.John's and Fordham, formed a radiant inside-outside punch with Thomas.

McLean was able to score in clusters during the first half of the season, operating and finishing and knocking down 3-pointers. When Luis Montero arrived during the 16th game of the season, however, McLean adapted to the primary role of offensive engineer.

Montero, a 6-foot-9 forward who has the handle and deep range of a guard, has become highly-coveted recruit. Interest from West Virginia, Alabama, LSU, and South Florida has enveloped the freshman this spring.

The triumvirate resuscitated the WCC program, defeating local competition handily and drawing more and more high-major looks on the road to the JUCO national tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.