Jevon Thomas returns to court for Seton Hall after 21-month hiatus

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Following a 21-month absence from the hardwood, Seton Hall point guard Jevon Thomas enters the fray on Friday against Rutgers in the third rendition of the Garden State Hardwood Classic.

The last time the Queens-native laced ‘em up in an official D-I game was March of 2015 for Kansas State following a one-game suspension from Bruce Weber; Thomas would transfer before month’s end.

21 months removed from his 1.5-year stint at K-State — Thomas also sat out the first semester of his freshman year due to sub-standard grades — the lightning-quick New York City point guard is set to return.

The lengthy separation from the court has been anything but smooth.

In fact, it would have been two months less if it weren’t for a choking incident in February that prevented Thomas from finishing the spring semester and forcing him to re-enroll at Seton Hall.

According to NCAA rules, a transfer must sit out two full academic semesters, meaning Spring 2016 did not count in addition to Fall 2015 — and here we are.

Jevon reiterated to media earlier this year what we had known at the time: a close friend lost his life just days prior to the incident. Of course this doesn’t excuse the alleged but well-documented crime, but it does add context on top of troubled beginnings to his life.

“I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned how to deal with my emotions off the court, on the court. I think it was an unfortunate situation, I think it’s going to help me later on in life,” Thomas told NJ.com at Seton Hall Media Day. “The good thing is, I get to bounce back. From certain situations, people can’t bounce back. It happened now, I get a chance to bounce back. I’m thankful, I’m grateful, and it’s just a lesson learned.”

For head coach Kevin Willard, who in-part forced his point guard into counseling and community service as a way to work himself back into the good graces of the school and program, Jevon Thomas is something like a trade deadline addition to the team.

“We have been putting him with the second team, trying to get him to work with Myles Powell and that’s worked pretty well in practice,” said Willard of integrating his new point guard.

“We’re practiced with three guards, Khadeen [Carrington], Madison [Jones] and him on the court and they were really good defensively. So it’s going to be a matter of which match-ups are out there and what we can exploit. It’s not going to be an easy fit, but I’m looking forward to having him back.”

Defense is the first thing on the tip of most people’s tongue when asked about Thomas. Dating back to Big East Media Day, Willard compared him to Paul Gause, a tough-nosed former high school cornerback who is second on Seton Hall’s all-time steal list with 256, behind Fuquan Edwin (295) and ahead of current associate head coach Shaheen Holloway (231).

Not bad company.

With career numbers of 25-percent from three (10-of-40), 35-percent from within the arc (52-of-148) and 45-percent from the line (59-of-129), it’s safe to say shooting will not be Thomas’ strong suit, barring remarkable work over the past 21 months.

The ability to get in the lane at perhaps a better rate than Madison Jones and smothering on-ball defense are the primary attributes to look for when Jevon is on the floor. It remains to be seen just how effective the offense will be with both Jones and Thomas off the bench, but I suspect that is not a lineup we’ll see for long stretches.

Currently manning the point guard, it sounds like Madison is just happy he can get some help after the semi-failed conversion of Khadeen Carrington to the ‘one’ this off-season.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect me at all,” said Jones of Thomas’ addition. “He’s only going to help us. He’s great defensively, he’s only going to help us. Like Coach said, if you can run an offense with J.T. guarding you, you can run on anybody. He’s one of the best defenders that I’ve probably played against. He’s very quick, strong, he can move good — like I said he’s only going to come in and help us.”

Thomas’ ability to turn opposing guards over will be of high value for Kevin Willard, whose team ranks 200th nationally in forcing turnovers. If he can do that, it will be a big boost for this Seton Hall bunch.

For most athletes, sitting out a few minutes or a few games is agonizing, let alone a season and a half.

Jevon Thomas is ready to leave the past behind him and happy to start a new beginning, one which will come against former Kansas State teammate Nigel Johnson, who is playing at a high level (12.4p, 4.3r, 3.2a) in Rutgers’ backcourt and started ahead of Thomas in many games at their previous school.

“He’s happy. I know he’s happy he’s going to be able to sleep in the hotel for next game,” said Angel Delgado of his teammate. “This guy plays defense at another level, I really like how he plays defense. I tell him [jokingly] ‘Yo, you cannot stop nobody’ and he got a lot of confidence saying that he’s the best defender in the country — I love that. That’s what he shows me every practice: going hard. I’ve never seen anybody go that hard in my life.”

For the first time in nearly two years, Jevon Thomas has a chance to step out from the shadows of auxiliary gyms, obscurity, and controversy, and go hard in front of about 10,000 at Prudential Center on Friday night.