His team trailing by 10 in the final two minutes, Jahad Thomas sprinted past a Chester player, leapt and spiked the ball off him while nearly hitting a wall. It gave Williamsport an extra possession and was one last enduring image, letting all those in attendance know what made him such a great player.
Thomas is blessed with talent. He can jump high, run fast and overpower taller opponents. But there is no tape measure, no stop watch that can measure what beats inside Thomas. His is a heart as big as any player who has ever played at Williamsport.
Thomas concluded his brilliant scholastic career Wednesday at Martz Hall in fitting fashion. He dazzled against one of the country's best teams, tried willing his team to victory scoring 22 points and grabbing nine rebounds in a 67-50 Class AAAA second round state tournament loss to two-time defending champion Chester. The senior forward again played his best against the best competition and if he does not earn first team all-state honors a few weeks from now, an investigation should be launched.
Williamsport’s Jahad Thomas, dribbles around a pick set by Chris Kinley on Wednesday in Pottsville.
"He's without question the most versatile player I've ever coached. He has the ability to score inside, score outside, create plays for his teammates, rebound, play physical and still play a finesse game," Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. "Possessing that kind of talent is impressive, but his unselfishness has stood out the most."
Thomas had one of the best seasons in Williamsport history. He averaged nearly 19 points and more than 10 rebounds per game. He was also among the team leaders in assists, steals and blocks. But the stats tell only part of the story. It was the leadership provided, the example he set which helped Williamsport go 23-3, capture a second straight District 2-4 championship, and put a serious scare into the state's best team.
He never took a day off during the offseason. Whether playing, running or lifting weights, Thomas always was doing something to get ready to make a state title push. Even when he earned all-state honors last season he remained unfazed. It was a nice achievement, but the team always meant more, the championship was the most important thing.
Once the season started, Thomas never took a play off. He always was one of the smallest post players at 6-foot-2, but consistently banged with the bigger bodies and consistently beat them. At the same time, he ran the court, played point guard at times and swarmed defensively. Williamsport fell short of its ultimate goal but Thomas can always look at the man in the mirror and know he did everything possible to make the dream a reality.
"He's an outstanding player offensively and defensively," Loyalsock guard Mike Pastore said following a 66-54 Williamsport win over the Lancers two months ago. "It was just too hard to keep him off the boards. He's just an unbelievable player."
The bigger the challenge, the better Thomas played. Late in the season, national power Princeton Day Academy came to Williamsport featuring European professional-bound Aquille Carr and a huge front line that went 7-0, 6-8 and 6-7. Princeton Day had the hype but Thomas was the best player, scoring 24 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, dealing four assists and making four steals as Williamsport won, 73-59.
Two weeks later, Thomas scored 16 second-half points as Williamsport rallied past Scranton in the fourth quarter and repeated as District 2-4 champions. Against Liberty in the opening round of states, Thomas hit three go-ahead, fourth-quarter shots and scored 10 of his game-high 27 points in the final quarter as Williamsport rallied again, winning 62-60.
When the pressure was highest, Thomas wanted the ball in his hands and time after time made big shots that made everything turn out well for Williamsport. He almost did it again Wednesday. Playing against another huge front line that included McDonald's All-American Rondae Jefferson, Thomas dominated at times and scored 13 of his 22 points in the second half as Williamsport trimmed a 10-point deficit to two early in the fourth quarter.
"He never backs down. He always brings everything he has," Williamsport senior forward Achilles Watson said. "He's like the focal point of our team, the centerpiece. He makes us go."
Inexplicably, Division I coaches have been slow to look at Thomas. Georgia State's coaches, however, flew up to Martz Hall on Wednesday and saw first-hand the entire package. They watched Thomas make an array of moves to score in difficult situations, they watched him unselfishly dissect the defense with pin-point passing and they watched him go all-out every second he was in the game. The huge ovation Thomas received when he fouled out with 34 seconds remaining let the coaches know they were watching someone special.
Now Georgia State is in position to possibly make the steal of the recruiting year. The college's goal is to improve itself and that is what Thomas does. The way he has evolved the last four seasons, the heights he has helped Williamsport scale, the way he has positively impacted future Millionaire players tells the story.
"His overall work ethic and his personality are unbelievable," Taylor said. "I think he's going to go a long way if he continues with his work ethic and continues to make sacrifices and continues on the path he's on right now."
Williamsport features one of the state's best basketball traditions that stretches back 110 years. The program is so steeped in greatness that it could hold a Hall of Fame ceremony every year and keep inducting fantastic players.
To realize how good Thomas was, to grasp how much he meant, understand this: you better believe he would be among the first class inducted. It would be unanimous, too.
He is one of Williamsport's all-time greats.
Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.