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February 24, 2009

From NYC to Smalltown, USA

TRENTON, N.J. A year ago, Doron Lamb and Shaquille Thomas attended school and played basketball in the heart of Northeast urban life, Lamb at Brooklyn (N.Y.) Bishop Loughlin and Thomas at Paterson (N.J.) Catholic.

Now the two young players are about as far out in the sticks as you can get.

The 6-foot-4 Lamb is playing for Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy, No. 2 in the RivalsHigh 100. The 6-6 Thomas competes for No. 99 Beckley (W.Va.) Mountain State Academy.

"I miss home, but I gotta do what I gotta do at Oak Hill, handle my business," said Lamb, a sophomore guard, after tallying 15 points, three rebounds and three assists Saturday night to lead Oak Hill to a 73-64 victory over then-No. 4 Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick at the Primetime Shootout. "It gets boring. We hang out in my coach's room, just chill, make jokes. We just play ball all day."

Thomas, a junior wing who is at his third stop of the school year, said he feels similarly about his life at Mountain State.

"There's not that much to do except ball and hang out with your friends," he said after scoring nine points in Mountain State's 75-61 loss to No. 8 Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict's Prep. "All you can do is play basketball and stuff. It's kind of like Oak Hill Academy."

Lamb's departure last summer from Bishop Loughlin was part of a slew of transfers that saw a mass exodus of some of New York's top talent. Kevin Parrom and Omari Lawrence both left St. Raymond's in the Bronx for South Kent (Conn.), while Ashton Pankey and Devon Collier both departed New York Catholic schools to play for legendary coach Bob Hurley at Jersey City (N.J.) St. Anthony.

Lamb took some heat for his choice.

"It's his decision, but I see it as a lateral movement," former Bishop Loughlin coach Khalid Green, now a scout with the New Jersey Nets, told the New York Daily News. "I don't see it as an upgrade. [Oak Hill's] not trying to win a championship. It's more of a showcase situation. I thought he could have had one or two [Catholic High School Athletic Association] titles under his belt at Loughlin."

Lamb, the No. 5 shooting guard in the class of 2011", was soon joined by another guard from New York, Lamont Jones, so at least there is someone he knows.

The transition has been tough, but Lamb says it's worth it to focus on school and basketball.

"It's hard to move to Mouth of Wilson from Brooklyn, but it's better for me because I get my grades up," he said. "Focus on my schoolwork and my basketball, and we travel around the country so it's just a good experience."

On a team loaded with future Division 1 players, including Oklahoma-bound center Keith Gallon, a newly minted McDonald's All American, and West Virginia-bound junior wing Bryon Allen, Lamb might be the team's best player. He scored nine of his 15 points in the fourth quarter against St. Patrick, including a key three-point play that put the Warriors up 65-58 and two clutch free throws in the game's finals seconds. He is averaging 14 points and four assists while shooting 59 percent from the field.

"The first half I didn't play that good," Lamb said. "I was missing balls and all that, but the second half I tried to pick it up and be more aggressive. That's what I did."

Said Smith: "He's playing great. He might be our best player now."

Smith has played Lamb at both the point and shooting guard positions and says he has excelled at both.

"He's got a great midrange game," Smith said. "He can play either one. He's very adequate at the point. I've played him a little bit lately and he's really good."

Lamb said it's too early to think about college, but Smith says the "whole Big East and Kansas and UCLA" are recruiting him.

"I'm not worrying about college right now," Lamb said. "I'm going on my junior year of high school, but next year I'll focus on college more."

As for Thomas, he is not only the nephew of the most accomplished male basketball player ever to emerge from the Silk City (Tim Thomas), but he also is the half-brother of Liberty rookie and former Rutgers star Essence Carson, perhaps the best female player to come out of Paterson.

Thomas began the season at Paterson Catholic, only to have his famous uncle pull him out of his own alma mater because he was unhappy with his playing time and academic situation.

"That's really my main focus with Shaq, getting him on pace where he has to be education-wise and letting the basketball take care of itself," Tim said in October.

Shaq, the No. 13 small forward in the class of 2010, briefly attended his hometown Montclair (N.J.) High School, but when he was denied a waiver that would have allowed him to suit up for the school's basketball team immediately instead of having to sit an entire year, he was on the move again.

"It was going to take forever so I said I'm not going to wait that long," he said. "I need to play basketball."

Now at his third school this year, Thomas says he's only beginning to become adjusted to life at Mountain State, which shares its campus with an adjacent community college.

Still, he got to spend some time visiting with his old buddies from Paterson Catholic during the trip to the Primetime Shootout.

Thomas and West Virginia-bound junior point guard Noah Cottrill live with Mountain State coach Rob Fulford because there is no room remaining in the dorms.

"It's a big difference coming from three different schools in a year," Thomas said. "It's just a big change, but I'm kind of adjusted now."

The Mountain State team features two players from Turkey and one from France, but Thomas says he hasn't yet learned any new languages.

"Not at all," he joked.

Thomas, who is averaging 10 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocks, also has to adjust to playing off the ball more. He will need to work on his jumper and bulk up to become a stronger factor at the next level.

"He is starting to get adjusted and is becoming more aggressive on offense," Fulford said. "His recruiting has picked up significantly."

After nearly committing to Syracuse last year, Thomas now says he has interest from Florida, Kansas, West Virginia, Clemson and Syracuse.

Thomas said he's "still open," but the Florida coaches told him he could be a "dominant wing."

"If I work hard, I could go in there [to Florida] and play much," he said. "If I work on my skills, I think I can definitely get there."

Getting there from here means spending one more year in the boondocks of high school basketball.

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