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July 11, 2004Coaches at summers camps such as ABCD, Nike or adidas aren't just looking for players who can fill it up with points, execute a 360-degree dunk or please the crowd with every eye-popping play he makes. They're also looking for players who can do the little things.
Like hustle. Be the first back on defense. Pick someone's pocket with a timely steal. Snag a key rebound. Find an open teammate for an easy bucket. Coaches such as Tom Crean of Marquette and Billy Donovan of Florida, two of the most visible head men at ABCD Camp the past few days, are looking for those types of players.
One of those players is a kid that's grown up just a short ride from Rutgers -- 6-foot-8, 200-pound junior-to-be Lance Thomas of Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School. And plenty of schools are onto him -- schools even better than Marquette and Florida. Long before Thomas came to ABCD, schools such as Duke and Wake Forest have inquired about his services. Why? Simple. Thomas does almost everything a winning ballplayer needs to do.
"I go as hard as I can every time out," Thomas said following Friday's afternoon session at ABCD. "I just make sure that no one will catch me sleeping on any play."
He's not kidding. In his first four games at ABCD, Thomas was the first player back on defense almost every trip down the court. And on offense, despite being the third or fourth option AND being at a physical disadvantage against almost every opponent, Thomas was one of the first players downcourt, jockeying around for a spot on the perimeter or digging in for positioning in the paint.
But through four games, Thomas didn't post pretty offensive numbers, netting 6, 8, 9 and 8 points, respectively, for a 7.8 per game average. Thomas wasn't really discouraged, however. He knows his value to a team doesn't always come in the points column.
"It's hard to get touches when everybody is trying to make a name for himself," said Thomas, who made up for not scoring much by playing tough defense, hitting his free throws and grabbing very timely rebounds. "I just do other things, like getting rebounds. You can't try to perform at your peak on offense when everybody on your team is a go-to guy. You just gotta try to do the little things."
Music to a coach's ears. But so far, the only coaches who have had their ears and eyes trained on Thomas are the aforementioned Duke and Wake Forest, as well as Syracuse and Georgia Tech. No Rutgers, according to Thomas.
"I haven't really heard anything (from them)," he said with a puzzled look on his face, considering he's already been rated by Rivals as the 29th-best player in the recruiting class of 2006. "I'd like to hear from them."
Thomas will have plenty of chances to impress the Rutgers coaching staff, and those from other schools, too, over the next two years -- beginning with today's final set of games at ABCD.
And if those games are anything like the one he played Friday afternoon against former teammate Derrick Caracter, the phone lines of both himself and his high school coach, Dan Doherty, will be ringing off the hook. Thomas' best game of his first four came against Caracter's Warriors, netting 9 points and pulling down 3 rebounds as his Clippers lost 76-63. He made both his free throws, his only 3-pointer and had two steals and two assists.
"I'm trying to be a wingman," Thomas said with a smile.
A 6-foot-8 perimeter-oriented forward would be a powerful asset to any team, including Rutgers, especially one so talented who, by his own admission, isn't sure how good he can become.
"I know I'm not at my peak yet," he said. "But I just gotta keep working hard. I just want to get better. I want to be better than when I came."
Log in to RutgersFan.com late Sunday night/early Monday morning for info from the final day of ABCD Camp, including a complete recap of its All-Star Game, plenty of stats and a few updates on the players Rutgers is looking at.