BY KEITH IDEC
The Senior Spotlight is a look at 50 rising seniors who could make an impact in the 2013-14 school year.
Alex Thomas’ role on an AAU basketball team loaded with future Division I players is far different from the one he plays for Hawthorne Christian.
The 6-foot-8, 220-pound Thomas is by far Hawthorne Christian’s biggest and best player, an extremely rare Division I recruit for a tiny non-public school that has just 70 boys enrolled. Thomas’ responsibilities for the Paterson-based Playaz Basketball Club’s Class of 2014 Gold Team are to finish around the rim, block shots and rebound.
If the Little Falls resident doesn’t do those things consistently, he’ll hear about it from his AAU teammates.
“It really helps,” Thomas said, “because you not only have to go against them in practice, but if you’re not performing at your best in games, they’ll let you know. That puts pressure on you not only from yourself, but from your teammates, to perform at your best every night. That’s really just like college, where your teammates pressure you to be at your best.”
Thomas has played well enough on the AAU circuit, and in three seasons as a starter for Hawthorne Christian, to earn Division I scholarship offers from Fairfield, Fairleigh Dickinson, New Hampshire, Quinnipiac and Rider. Drexel, which Thomas will visit next week, and St. Joseph’s also are in the hunt.
Each of those schools view Thomas as a “stretch four,” basketball lingo for a power forward who can shoot from the perimeter. Thomas takes between 200 and 300 jumpers a day to continue honing his skills, and has become a much more formidable offensive option than when he entered high school.
“My jump shot has gotten a lot better,” said Thomas, who averaged 18.9 points and 10.0 rebounds as a junior. “And now I can put the ball on the floor and beat people off the dribble, which is something I’ve been working hard on.”
Thomas intends to pick a college before his senior year begins next month. That’ll enable him to concentrate on his senior season, when he could become the first player in Hawthorne Christian history to score 1,500 points and pull down 1,000 rebounds (he has 1,124 points and 704 rebounds).
Regardless, he has vastly improved the past couple of years.
“He was able to step in and start right away as a freshman, really as a defensive stopper,” Hawthorne Christian coach Kevin Standford said. “I remember early on in his freshman year he was going through games scoring two, three points. A lot of that came down to him just not being used to the physicality of the game. The junior and senior big men would kind of just push him around and have their way with him. He really didn’t know how to handle that.
“But he has gotten used to the physical play and worked on his face-up game, where he can knock down the 15-foot jumper pretty consistently. That kind of just opened up his offensive game. I think he’s gone from being a good defensive player to a very good all-around player.”