Written by Corbett Smith
Elijah Thomas' 6-9 frame turned out to be missing puzzle piece for Lancaster's 2014 team
LANCASTER – When Ferrin Douglas heard near the start of the school year that 6-9 junior post Elijah Thomas was going to transfer to his program from Prime Prep Academy, the Lancaster coach had to do some easy detective work.
“Honestly, I didn’t know who Elijah Thomas was,” Douglas said. “I’ve been with my nine-year-old son in the summer, so I didn’t watch any AAU ball or any of that. So I got on Google and Googled him. I saw him play a couple of moves, and was like, ‘Wow!’ He finally came up to the school to visit the campus, met with the principal. Shoot – it was like Christmas in August.”
Without knowledge of Thomas’ transfer, Lancaster didn’t get ranked by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches in its pre-season poll.
With Thomas, Lancaster (30-4) is one of the favorites for the Class 4A title. It will play South Oak Cliff (27-6) in the semifinals of a loaded Class 4A Region II tournament, 6 p.m. Friday at Garland’s Culwell Center.
“I kind of knew who was here, but we didn’t know how good we were until we had a couple of open gyms,” Thomas said. “It took time for everyone else to see it.”
Last season, Lancaster – a traditional basketball power – struggled. With many of its players off with the football team as it made its run to the 4A Division II final, it started off the season with a 3-8 record. Lancaster made the playoffs as the fourth-seed in a difficult District 15-4A, but lost in overtime in the bi-district round to Jacksonville in overtime, 63-62.
“By the time we started to put it all together, we lost,” senior shooting guard Kaelon Wilson said. “This year, we are stepping into shoes that we should have already done years ago.”
Lancaster cruised to close out the 2013-14 regular season, with only one loss in the last three months. And Thomas – one of the top juniors in the country, with offers from Arizona, Louisvile, Texas and others – has lived up to expectations. He is averaging 17.8 points and 11.4 rebounds, becoming more explosive after losing 30 pounds over the summer.
According to Wilson and senior point guard Deondre Edwards, the new additions Thomas and DeSoto transfer and 3-point specialist Antwon Portley quickly endeared themselves to teammates, making for a cohesive and dangerous team. Lancaster can run with its guards (Wilson averages 14.5 points, Portley averages 13.0 points and Edwards adds five assists per game) when required, or it can rely on post scoring from Thomas and 6-9 sophomore Nate Morris.
“Last year, we weren’t really as gelled as we are now,” Edwards said. “This year, we are all on the same page.”
To make the state tournament for the first time since 2010, Lancaster must beat SOC for the third time, and then face either Mansfield Summit (21-11) or Kimball (22-7) in the final. Lancaster swept Summit in 15-4A play, and beat Kimball in Dallas ISD Coca Cola tournament.
Not a problem, said Wilson.
“If we beat you early in the season, we are that much better now,” he said. “You should be scared.”