For Thomas, circle is complete

College career proceeded in fits, starts, but guard returns home as all-star

April 10, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

For two hours during tonight's Black College All-Star Game at the Baltimore Arena, Tyrone Thomas will gain a measure of recognition he never got while at Overlea High School.

"My junior and senior year [in high school], we only lost three games," said Thomas, who remembers going without postseason honors at Overlea. "I know the county schools didn't get the recognition that the city schools got, and I know in my senior year we deserved it. I just didn't have the big name."

The 6-foot-1 point guard, who led Winston-Salem State to a 23-9 record this season, will play for the North All-Stars against the South in a 6: 30 game. It follows the women's game at 4 p.m. Among his teammates will be Fred Warrick and Dorian Pena of Coppin State, and Rasheed Sparks of Morgan State.

Thomas earned the berth by averaging 12.1 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals for the Rams, who reached the South Atlantic Regional finals in the NCAA Division II tournament.

"He was the real glue for our success," Rams coach Ricky Duckett said. "He's a tremendous person. I have not coached a player with more character and dedication than Tyrone."

Thomas' journey to this point hasn't been that hard, but as the 25-year-old attests by calling himself "an old head," it has been long.

It began normally enough, as he went to Catonsville Community College to play basketball for the 1991-92 season. But from there, he went on to a series of odd jobs.

"I decided I needed to join the working world, so I didn't go to school for three years," Thomas said. He started by mowing lawns, then moved on to selling shoes and finally ended up working for Circuit City, where he sold electronic equipment for 1 1/2 years.

The work allowed him a certain amount of independence. He could pay for his own place to live instead of staying with his parents. He could drive his own car.

Still, he was captive to the tug of basketball and the knowledge that he could put off his education for only so long.

"My heart was just saying, `Go back to school and play ball,' " Thomas said. "I needed to try to get my education while I was still young and could make the best of it."

He enrolled at Dundalk Community College for the 1994-95 school year, while still working at Circuit City, a job he eventually had to quit to make time for schoolwork and practices.

"I was just missing the money coming in," Thomas said. "Getting a paycheck every two weeks, of my own money. I had to depend on my parents a little more. I'm managing so far."

Interested in attending a historically black college, he ended up at Winston-Salem State. Then-coach Samuel Hangar began recruiting Thomas after a postseason camp in New Jersey following his season at Dundalk.

As an off-guard, he led the team in scoring with 14.3 points per game during the 1997-98 season. Duckett knew upon taking the Winston-Salem job that spring that the Rams were in need of a point guard and that Thomas could fill the role.

"I pretty much knew what type of player he was," Duckett said. "I knew we needed a point guard and a leader. I knew he would fit that role better than that of a two-guard."

A sports management major, Thomas said he hasn't made any decisions as to what he's going to do next, partially because he is 20 units shy of graduation.

But for now, he's waiting to see what opportunities he can create with a good performance tonight.

"I just want to wait until after this game, see how things work out for me then," Thomas said. "Hopefully I'll be playing somewhere in August or September."

Black College All-Star Game

When: Today; women's game at 4 p.m., men's at 6: 30 p.m.

Where: Baltimore Arena

Who: The best basketball players selected from historically black colleges and universities. Those of local interest include Fred Warrick and Dorian Pena of Coppin State and Rasheed Sparks of Morgan State. Baltimore native Tyrone Thomas of Winston-Salem State also will be playing. Trenita Shields and Rashida Brooks of Bowie State will play in the women's game.

Tickets: $15 and $20 (courtside)

TV: HTS, 2 p.m. Wednesday. Pub Date: 4/10/99

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