For the fourth time (after Conley, Abdul-Aziz, Herren) but what won't be the last (Mike James has a book out there and Acie Earl has told me he has an Ebook so we'll see where they go) we remember a former-Celtic-turned author. For the second time (after this guy) but definitely not the last time, we remember someone whose cousin not only played for the Celtics (Stephon Marbury) but so did his brother as well (Sebastian Telfair). You definitely remember Jamel Thomas.
I remember first seeing Thomas play at Providence. The guy I thought of? Lamond Murray, no doubt. His ability to get to the basket and quick first step were impressive but he also had a sound fundamental aspect to his game which included strong perimeter shooting and a nice touch from the foul line. He was like Murray in that the game seemed to come easy to him.
Rewind back to Lincoln HS in Brooklyn's Head Coach Bobby Harsteins's gym with the usual 8th grade prospects there. Harstein knew Marbury for sure, highly heralded from a long-line of basketball lineage so he didn't bother to ask him to identify himself. Coach Harstein wanted to know about his taller friend with him:
“Who’s that?” Hartstein asked.
“My cousin Jamel,” Marbury answered.
“How does he do in school?”
“He doesn’t go to school, Coach.”
“What do you mean he doesn’t go to school?”
“Well, he doesn’t go every day.”
“Where does he think he’s going to high school?”
“Right here, Coach.”
“Well, he’s going to school every single day if he thinks he’s going to
play basketball for Lincoln.”
Jamel didn't wind up going to school every day but one particular day, in English class, when he refused to complete the essay portion of an exam, he made an indelible mark on teacher Lenore Braverman. Braverman asked Thomas if he wanted to live with her and her husband in their home in Rockaway Park away from all the crime, drugs, away from the "struggle". What do a middle-class Jewish family know about raising a black teenager? Coach Hartstein thought it was an outstanding idea but insisted on running it past the Marbury and Telfair families. They were skeptical at best thinking that the Braverman's were looking to cash in on Jamel someday. But ultimately Lenore was allowed to help. Thomas would stay with her during the week and return to his own home in Coney Island on the weekends. The Bravermans would help Jamel focus and ultimately win a scholarship to Providence College.
His time at Providence was a great success. During his sophomore season, along with Austin Croshere and God Shammgod, the Friars knocked off Duke and then it was Jamel's gutsy 3 pointer from the corner that tied he game against Arizona in the Elite 8. In case you forgot that:
Thomas finished his Providence career with 1,971 career points and made the First Team All-Big East selection as a senior. So certainly when it was draft time in 1999, I expected Jamel to be selected. But sometimes it doesn't happen that way (think Scotty Thurman). Jamel wasn't picked but latched onto Cleveland in October of that year. However before playing any regular season games, he was released. 2 months later and the Evil Emperor came calling in December of 1999. The Celtics would ink Jamel to a 10 day contract on December 13th. During that stretch he appeared in 3 games and average 6 minutes per game. Despite that his per-36 numbers were strong, 20 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. His Celtics career came to an end.
I thought Jamel was a hell of player at Providence. But ah yes, it seems to always come down to time and place (Bryant Stith can relate). Jamel never got a fair shake in the NBA and decided to focus overseas.
When I went undrafted it was very political. I never got the option to come back (and play in the States). There were some camps and summer leagues where I played well, like in Cleveland, but I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I played in Turkey, Italy and Greece and I led a couple of leagues in scoring in both Italy and Greece.
Hey if I could blame the Evil Emperor for not giving Dontae' Jones time to develop, can I blame him for Jamel Thomas too? I'll take the safe route and say "yes, I can and will."
As I mentioned at the start, since retiring, Jamel is a proud author. That's right, the same guy that struggled writing the essay in high school all those years ago in Mrs Braverman's class wrote his own book called The Beautiful Struggle.
If you check out the link to Amazon above you will see Jamel went by the pen name J.A.M.E.L. What does
it stand for? Just Ask Michele Erica Lenore. Michele was Jamel's
mother's name who was tragically murdered when he was 4. Erica was the aunt that took him in and Lenore was in
reference to Lenore Braverman, the teacher who helped him get into Providence.
In addition to writing, today, Jamel works as a trainer in the offseason with both
NBA players (like Al Harrington) and prospects. He trains a lot of high
school kids who are striving to compete at Division 1 colleges and beyond. One of his prized pupils has been Wolfgang Novogratz who
attends Poly Prep now but one day aspires to be playing in the NBA himself.
Hoopist: Is there anything else you have in the works that you’d like to share with us?
Jamel Thomas: Well, in February, my book will be a curriculum at
Providence, so hopefully by next April, I’ll be going on tour for the
book. We’re going to try and branch it out to inner city high schools
after that. That’s my main focus right now.
Get ready for the Jamel Thomas book tour, coming soon to you! Kudos to Jamel for having the fortitude and toughness to make it through his struggle and ultimately, make a mark on the Celtics.