Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
After Long and Troubled Journey, Seton Hall’s Jevon Thomas Set to Debut Against Rutgers
Seton Hall has already lost two players this week heading into Friday’s game with in-state rival Rutgers, but they are poised to add a third who could be a defensive difference-maker during the second half of the season.
Jevon Thomas, a 6-foot-1 junior point guard from Queens, is eligible to play in Friday’s sellout game at Prudential Center. Thomas transferred to Seton Hall from Kansas State and then sat out the first semester this season after he was involved in an altercation in February during an intramural basketball game on campus in which he allegedly choked a graduate assistant.
“It’s been a little while,” Thomas told me at Seton Hall media day in October. “I had to overcome certain things, but I’m pretty excited. I think in December I’ll be ready to go.”
Thomas’ debut comes the same week that Seton Hall announced that sophomore wing Veer Singh would transfer (Iona, Monmouth, Hofstra, St. Peter’s and Old Dominion are some of the schools that have reached out) and that the program had dismissed sophomore forward Myles Carter.
“I don’t know how many minutes I’m going to get out of him,” Pirates coach Kevin Willard said Thursday evening by phone. “It’s all going of kind to depend on how he feels and how comfortable he is being back out there. I think everyone’s expectations have to be limited a little bit because he’s jumping back in there mid-season. I think it’s going to take him a couple games to kind of get his sea legs under him a little bit.”
After the incident in February, Willard penalized Thomas by making him sit the fall semester and made him take several steps before he could play again.
“He had to do community service, he had to do counseling, he had to do a whole lot of stuff,” Willard said. “I think he’s learned a lot. I think he’s very grateful for this opportunity and really he’s just looking to get back on the basketball court.”
Thomas said the incident happened two days after his best friend had died.
“The tough[est] thing was the situation in February,” which he called a “situation between me and a staff [member], you know, ego, men. He told me to get out, I didn’t get out. It got to the point where I had to miss the remainder of the school, but I didn’t do a good job dealing with my emotions. I think that helped me a lot for later on in life.”
Thomas grew up without a father and said he relied on his older siblings to raise him.
“A lot of people gave up on me,” he said.
Thomas said Willard told him his actions were “stupid” and explained that that’s not how to deal with things, but he also stood by his player.
“He said, ‘We’re going to get through this together, you still have your scholarship,'” Thomas said. “He said he still had faith in me. He said, ‘I’m going to bring you back, help you get your degree.’ He was just big on me getting my degree.”
Thomas, who turns 23 in February, has always been viewed as a talented point guard, especially on the defensive end, but he attended multiple high schools and is now on his second college. He averaged 4.5 points, 3.3 assists and 3.0 rebounds in 25.8 minutes per game during the 2014-15 season at Kansas State.
“His biggest talent is that he can affect the game tremendously on the defensive end,” Willard said. “When he turns up the heat, he can be an unbelievable lock-down defender. That’s the thing that’s exciting about him. He can create a lot of offense by the way he plays defense.”
Bryan Clayton, who coached Thomas at St. John’s Northwest Military Academy, added: “He’s going to bring defense, obviously, a chance to push tempo and toughness. He’s the toughest kid I’ve ever coached. He’s been in battles in the Big 12. Had a chance to play in the NCAA tournament.
“And now he’s at home playing for a staff that stuck with him and Shaheen [Holloway] who has always had his back. I’m thrilled for him and am hoping he can have an impact for these guys. He doesn’t need the ball to help his team and hopefully he’s in shape and ready to go.”
Willard plans to use Thomas similarly to how he used sixth man Derrick Gordon last season. He can also play multiple guards at once with Thomas, Madison Jones, Khadeen Carrington and Myles Powell in the mix.
“We’ll do a lot of what we did with Derrick last year, we’ll play three guards,” Willard said. “It gives us a chance to play three guards again. It gives us a chance to play different lineups and give guys different opportunities. I think as the games go on and as he gets more comfortable, we’ll be able to do more things with him.”
Thomas know Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado because they’re all New York City kids.
“I always knew of them, always respected their game,” he said.
He’s also looking forward to backing up Jones and possibly playing alongside him.
“I think we both bring experience,” he said. “I think that will be good for us. Losing Isaiah [Whitehead], we’re bringing in two older guards that played at a real high level.”
Meantime, with the departure of Carter, Willard will have to rely on other frontcourt players to step up.
“Rashed [Anthony]’s gotta step up and we’ve been looking to play smaller at times,” he said, “so it gives us maybe an opportunity to play a little bit smaller.”
Seton Hall expects many recruits at the game including Jahvon Quinerly, Louis King, Nazi Reid, Luther Muhammad, Jordan Walker, Jalen Carey, Noah FarrakhanAl-Amir Dawes,Valdir Manuel, Isaiah Wong, Shakur Juiston, Darnell Brodie, Atiba Taylor and Elijah Everett.
Photo: The Setonian
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.