Journeyman Is Making Most of Extended Stay

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 30, 2006

SACRAMENTO, March 29 -- There were moments during the long bus rides or while he pulled on a strange-looking minor league uniform in some out-of-the-way place that Billy Thomas wondered whether he would ever realize his NBA dream.

And even when thoughts of the NBA did enter his mind, the journeyman guard certainly didn't allow himself to envision what happened Tuesday night: He came off the bench and helped the Wizards overcome the absence of Gilbert Arenas by connecting on 5 of 10 shots, making some huge defensive plays and tying a career high with 14 points in Washington's 97-84 victory over Sacramento.

"This was special, no question," said Thomas, who signed the first of two 10-day contracts on Feb. 24 and was picked up for the remainder of the season on March 17. "From the day I stepped back into the minor leagues, I dreamed of getting back up here. It took a little longer than I expected or I wanted, but I'm a firm believer that God has his own plan for us. I was patient enough and was fortunate to get this opportunity."

From Kansas in 1998, to the now-defunct American Basketball League, to the Continental Basketball Association, to the NBA Development League, to stints overseas in places such as the Philippines and back to the CBA this winter, Thomas's path to the NBA has been all about persistence.

Of course, it hasn't hurt that the 30-year-old has always packed a trusty jump shot wherever the road has led him.

Thomas left Kansas as the school's all-time leading three-point shooter, and against the Kings he displayed the familiar stroke that once complemented current NBA players Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz, Jacque Vaughn and Scot Pollard for Coach Roy Williams's talented Jayhawks teams of the 1990s.

Thomas was the last player cut in each of the Wizards' past two training camps. He appeared in 25 games with the New Jersey Nets last season and then headed back to the CBA last fall after the Wizards released him. But when Jarvis Hayes underwent season-ending knee surgery, a roster spot opened up and the Wizards came calling.

With Arenas out with the flu Tuesday night, Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan started Antonio Daniels at point guard and turned to Thomas as his first guard off the bench. Moments after checking in late during the first quarter Thomas curled off a screen, took a feed from Daniels and buried a 17-foot jump shot to give the Wizards a 20-17 lead.

In the third quarter, Thomas came back in and helped turn the game Washington's way. Caron Butler had just been fouled hard by Kings forward Kenny Thomas, who was called for a flagrant foul and ejected after arguing the call.

Butler made 2 of 3 free throws but had to leave the game to get six stitches in his head.

Billy Thomas checked in for Butler, took a pass from Daniels and made a three-pointer to complete the five-point possession and give the Wizards a 71-61 lead. He knocked down another three-pointer three possessions later, and later stole the ball from Brad Miller and raced the other way for a layup to put the Wizards up by 13 with 7 minutes 26 seconds left in the game.

"The thing about Billy is he understands his role," said Daniels, who assisted on three of Thomas's field goals. "He doesn't try and be someone he's not. He comes in and he knows he's in there to get open and knock shots down. Our job when he's on the floor is to try and find him, try and give him opportunities to have an impact on the game. He hit some huge shots to help us."

Jordan has been just as impressed with Thomas's defense. In 10 minutes against Golden State on Monday night and 23 minutes at Sacramento on Tuesday, he had six steals and did a solid job of defending anyone Jordan put him on.

"In the last week or so, Billy has really moved himself up the depth chart practice-wise," Jordan said. "He's tough. He can play defense. He gets digs, get some steals. He can make a long-range shot. He makes the extra pass. I feel comfortable with him."

"Comfortable" is something Thomas has never allowed himself to be.

"For me it's always been about working hard, staying positive and being ready when that opportunity presents itself," Thomas said. "You never know when you're going to be called on."

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