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Thomas steps up game, commits to play serious ball

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READING, Pa. — Jevon Thomas walks under the hoop, inbounds the ball and playfully shoulder-bumps Wings Academy Coach Billy Turnage. He does the same to another familiar face, smiling at each one.

He hits a step back jump shot and smiles as he trots down court. On the next possession, he drives into the lane, beating his man off the dribble and sets up a teammate for a layup. The play isn’t finished, but Thomas makes sure to get the ball back to his teammate the next time.

This isn’t the Jevon Thomas many are used to. The flip-flopping sourpuss of a point guard is nowhere to be found Wednesday afternoon at Hoop Group Elite Camp, and it isn’t a show for college coaches — they won’t arrive at Albright College for a few more hours.

The twice de-committed point guard from Queens, who attended three high schools in four years, says there is a reason for his about-face — a few of them in fact — grizzly memories he would prefer to forget. He’s lost four people close to him: two cousins; his brother, Christopher Ramsey, 25, who introduced him to basketball, was murdered a few years back; and childhood friend Darryl Adams was shot to death in March.

“It showed me life is too short, I’m trying to have fun. Enjoy every day,” says the 18-year-old Rosedale product who will do a postgraduate year at St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Wisconsin.

Adams’ passing hit him hard, the first time someone his age was taken from him. Thomas and Adams were close, basketball friends at a young age. Thomas was at Quality Education (N.C.) at the time of Adams’ murder and avoided the articles that detailed it and videos that gruesomely displayed it. He’s trying to forget about those who are lost, to focus on the present.

Yet he also wonders what his critics, the ones who have bashed him for twice de-committing from college and switching from one high school to another, would think if they know the life he has lived.

“People don’t know the story,” he says.

Thomas has learned a great deal from his tribulations, learned how precious life can be and how he went wrong in prior college commitments.

He picked St. John’s too early, he said, before he had anything to compare them to. It wasn’t good for him to stay close to home, he added. Like St. John’s, he prematurity picked Dayton, without even taking a visit.

Thomas was unsure if he would qualify in the spring and he wanted another year to mature. Dayton needed a guard for the coming season, setting the stage for another de-commitment. This time around, Thomas says, he’s going to take his time, visit as many schools as he can.

“Now I know what to look for,” Thomas says. “I know how to read coaches.”

He declined to name schools that are recruiting him, but there are several. There have never been questions about Thomas’ talent, his quickness, understanding of the position and improved jump shot.

One Division I coach said, “He gets in the lane whenever he wants.”

As his Team Melo AAU Coach J.R. Rodriguez says, “I tell him all the time, ‘on the court, you’re a genius; off the court, you’re the dumbest kid.”

Those days, Thomas’ mentor thinks, are in the past. Thomas has tightened his inner-circle, spending more time with basketball friends like Jordan Washington and LeBrent Walker than old friends who took him down the wrong path. He has a serious girlfriend, graduated from Quality Education after taking summer courses and regularly runs the track with Rodriguez before the sun rises. Walker, his good friend, has noticed a more dedicated person.

“He’s grown up,” Rodriguez says. “He’s really more mature now, that’s what I tell all the coaches.”

How far he has come is yet to be determined. His disposition, at least, seems to be different.

“I’m just happy,” he says. “I was given a second chance.”

When reminded it may be more than that, Thomas smiles again. He’s doing a lot of that lately.

“I messed up my first two years of high school, I de-committed [twice] and I’m still getting recruited,” he says. “I’m blessed.”

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