New Hope High School guard Terryonte Thomas brings the basketball up the court in a game against Oxford in the regular season. Thomas signed a National Letter of Intent last month to play basketball at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch Buy this photo.
May 16, 2017 10:24:53 AM
Terryonte Thomas looked long and hard to find coaches and a school that made him feel like a priority.
That search often can be difficult for high school standouts looking to find the right fit for the next step in their life.
But following a recruiting process that included its share of twists and turns, Thomas is relaxed after finding the fit he was looking for with coach Billy Begley and the East Mississippi Community College men's basketball program.
"He recruited me at Troy and stuck with it when he went to EMCC," Thomas said Monday of Begley, a former assistant coach at EMCC and Troy prior to returning to Scooba to become the school's head coach. "He showed up for a football game and showed he really wanted me and really wanted to help me. I know I can go there and get better individually."
Thomas, a 6-foot-4 guard, averaged more than 19 points, more than six rebounds, and nearly five assists per game to help lead New Hope (21-10), which won Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 5A, Region 2 and lost in the second round of the playoffs.
Earlier this year, Thomas was selected to play in the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Basketball Game. He was the first New Hope High player to be named to the game since Rashanti Harris and Dale Hughes, who led the Trojans to the MHSAA Class 4A State title in 2008.
Thomas was a fixture in New Hope's lineup since his freshman year. Back then, he played in the post, but his game has evolved and he is now a backcourt player who often plays point guard. He said he opted to go the junior college route in part to work on his all-around game in hopes of attracting attention from Division I programs.
Last year, Thomas gave a verbal commitment to Southern Mississippi, but he reconsidered that decision the same day.
Thomas, who will graduate Sunday, said he already is working to improve his ballhandling and his shooting to prepare himself for the next step.
"I am working on dribbling in traffic and making the correct decisions in pick and rolls and reading defenses and getting better IQ wise," Thomas said. "I also am working in the weight room and working on my spot shooting and picking my spots to score."
Thomas feels comfortable about his decision because Begley and the members of his coaching staff made him feel wanted. He said he built a relationship with Begley that convinced him the coach was going to do his best to help him realize his goals. Thomas said building that bond with Begley helped make his final decision easier to put an end to the recruiting process.
"(The recruiting process) made me grow up quicker. It made me realize it really is dog eat dog," said Thomas, who gave a verbal commitment April 23 and signed a National Letter of Intent on April 26 at his home. "Coaches want to get what they want. ... (Coach Begley) told me I really have to trust peoples' actions and not go by their word and let them show me I am a priority and not just talk it. The way coach Billy recruited me and made me look to a program and a coach is what it should be like."
New Hope High boys basketball coach Drew McBrayer could tell Begley and his assistant coaches worked hard to build a relationship with Thomas. He said Begley and the Lions made the recruiting "personal" and that the interest they showed Thomas helped convince him Scooba was the right place for him.
"I don't know if I can count on two hands the times he missed us play a ballgame," McBrayer said. "There is no question Terryonte was a priority of theirs. Coach Begley really, really got down and had a great relationship with Terryonte before they even rally talked about anything else."
McBrayer, who also went to EMCC, is confident Thomas will go to Scooba and continue to mature as a player. He said Thomas developed from a post player early in his career to a point guard and team leader who set the tone as a senior. McBrayer said Thomas showed younger players on the team how hard they need to work to realize their dreams. He said that work ethic is going to serve Thomas well and is going to help him realize his dreams to play Division I basketball.
"I can't tell you how many hours the kid spent in the gym, even during football season," McBrayer said "He was in the gym at 6:30 in the morning or however early I would pick him up to work out for those two years (he played football) so he wouldn't miss his time in basketball. He also spent all of those hours after practice. He spent more time in the gym than anybody I have coached since Dale Hughes."
Thomas plans to continue that work in the offseason. He said he will attend Elite camps at LSU and Louisiana Tech next month as well as a couple of more camps. He said his goal is to become one of the top junior college guards in the country.
"It will be more polishing (at EMCC) and making sure I can defend the point guard and the two guard," Thomas said. "I feel great about my decision. My family and my high school coach are supporting me."
Former Columbus High standout Quan Hines and former Starkville High standout Keith Harris were freshmen at EMCC this past season on a team that went 7-14 and 3-9 in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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