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Men's Basketball: Thomas has become a catalyst for HCC

March 16, 2013|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com
  • Donte Thomas, left, has become the ignitor of Hagerstown Community College's offense this season.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

There is more to Donte Thomas than meets the eye.

He has multiple personalities on the basketball court. There is more to him than he shows.

The Hagerstown Community College guard has changed his identity over the course of the year as his game evolved and the Hawks’ needs revolved. And because of it, Thomas and HCC are out to change the perspective of Mid-Atlantic basketball.

Thomas was known as a scorer coming out of high school, but now he’s a leading assist man in junior college basketball.

He used to shoot first and rarely pass. Now he shoots in the first half and passes in the second.

He was his team. Now he’s part of one.

“I was always a scorer,” Thomas said. “I have never been a passer until now. I have to score to get everyone involved, but I want to be a playmaker to get everyone involved.”

Thomas’ dual talents and ability to share the ball-handling duties with teammate Jerel Carter has helped vault the Hawks to a new level. They are taking their games to Hutchinson, Kan., to play in the NJCAA Division I national tournament, beginning Monday at 5:30 p.m. against Lee College of Baytown, Texas, in the first round of the 24-team tournament.

Thomas’ new role is to be the ignitor of the HCC offense. Carter brings the ball up the floor for the Hawks and spends the first 20 ticks of the 35-second clock working for a shot in the set offense. When that fails, it goes to Thomas to become explosive.

“When he finds me, I’m looking to shoot,” Thomas said. “I usually shoot a lot in the first half to get the team going. Then, (forward Antonio Jenifer) is the fourth-quarter guy. Jerel calms people and I get them going.”

Thomas has shown those abilities during HCC’s run through the Maryland JuCo, Region XX and District 3 tournaments to help lead the Hawks to their first national tournament appearance since 1994. In fact, he was the MVP of the region tournament, scoring 36 points and collecting 27 assists in two games.

Thomas is averaging 12.9 points and is third in the nation at nine assists per game.

“Jerel moves and makes me open to get shots,” said the 6-foot-4 Thomas from Ballou High School in Washington. “But when I get the ball, I set up shots for others.

“I kind of go back to streetball where it is one on one. But I’m with a team now and I look to deal the ball. I try to take my man to the basket to score, but if I can’t do that, I look to deal off to a teammate for an easy shot. Teams start to double-team me, so the other guys get open.”

Carter and Thomas give HCC both ends of the point guard spectrum. Carter sacrifices his game to set up the team and pass the ball. Thomas takes the ball to score and then sets up the team.

Thomas showed his complete array of talents during HCC’s 93-84 win over ASA College in the District 3 final on March 9.

Thomas was a dominant force in the first half, scoring 18 of his 23 points to help HCC forge a 40-40 tie at the half. In the second half, he was hobbled by a cramp, but worked to get the ball to open players, including Jenifer, who scored 23 of his 32 points in the second half.

“I was in a zone right from the start,” Thomas said. “I was relaxed and the others were looking around. I kept telling them to relax and just keep shooting. It will come, but you have to keep shooting.”

Thomas’ versatility has given him a new identity. He has been known as a sniper for his shooting. Now he has the alias of being the front man for HCC’s Run DMV.

DMV is what the Hawks calls HCC’s collection of players from D.C., Maryland and Virginia, an untapped commodity on the national JuCo stage. It’s a national tournament, but it also is a proving ground to see which region grows the best players.

“We are out to show that all the good players aren’t from Texas and Chicago,” Thomas said. “DMV will be showing they can make it, too. We want to represent the DMV area and make coaches come over here to look at the talent. It will be good for the school and good for the incoming freshmen, too.

“We want to win the whole thing. The guys who were here last year really want to go out as winners. We want to show that we are winners and not just going to show up.”

And it wouldn’t hurt Thomas either.

“This all means a lot,” he said. “I love all of this because it will help me on the next level of college. Now I have the ability to be a combo guard — one that can shoot, can pass and can be a playmaker. This will get a lot of coaches to look at me. I’m not just another player now.”

A dominant combo guard ... yet another personality for Donte Thomas.

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