It’s been a while since Jevon Thomas and Madison Jones have played on the hardwood.
Neither player has logged minutes in a collegiate game in more than a year. Thomas, who transferred from Kansas State, completed his mandatory sit-out year last season, but an altercation at Seton Hall will keep him off the court until December. Jones, a postgrad transfer, will be ready to open the season. He missed all of last year after a tumultuous career at Wake Forest.
Both players are expected to be difference-makers for Seton Hall at guard, but both have had to overcome hurdles and self-inflicted consequences to get to this point.
Thomas, a junior, transferred to Seton Hall in May 2015, explaining that he wanted to continue his college basketball career closer to his home of Queens, N.Y.
He could have been starting this season had he not been suspended by Seton Hall during the spring 2016 semester for an alleged on-campus incident that happened in February.
Witnesses to the altercation told The Setonian that Thomas choked an intramural basketball referee after disagreeing with a call. Thomas had been a spectator at the game.
Reflecting on the event, Thomas explained that his best friend had died two days prior and his emotions got the best of him.
That act of aggression cost Thomas a whole semester of playing time. He said it’s tough to handle, but he’s looking at it as a positive.
“I’ve been handling it well. Some days I’ll be kind of down just thinking about it, but I try not to think about it too much,” Thomas said. “The years go by fast, so at the blink of an eye I’ll be playing. But the more time I got off, the more better I can get, the more I can watch. So I just see it as an advantage.”
Jones, meanwhile, has had his share of troubles as well. The senior was dismissed in August 2015 from Wake Forest following an impaired driving charge and a loss of his license. He also was suspended prior to the dismissal for an unspecified violation.
Seton Hall, which recruited Jones out of high school and offered him then, tried once again with the ex-ACC player back on the open market. Jones transferred to the Pirates in June 2016 after sitting out the 2015-16 season. In 32 games with Wake Forest, Jones averaged 4.7 points and 3.0 assists per game.
Now, Jones is using his missteps as a learning experience.
“Basically, [the incidents] kind of changed my life in certain ways, but definitely just helped me out, just being smarter,” Jones said. “It’s learning from your mistakes, and I feel like everything happens for a reason. I didn’t let those things get me down and stay down, I feel like I want to fight through and come out on top. So it’s just learning from your mistakes, just growing up, just becoming a man.
“I can’t act like a freshman or a sophomore anymore, I have to step up. I’m a fifth-year senior now and I just got to do the right things.”
Jones said he has been doing all he can to stay out of trouble.
“I’ve just been staying in the gym,” he said. “If I stay in the gym as much as possible, I’m not doing other things. So just staying in the gym, as much as I can. This is what I love to do, so there’s no point in being anywhere else. I love being in the gym, I love playing ball, so that’s the main thing, is just staying in the gym, hanging out with my teammates.”
Jones has a good chance to crack the Hall’s starting lineup to kick-off the season. Thomas, meanwhile, will return when the Pirates take on Rutgers on Dec. 23, according to Kevin Willard.
The head coach added that Thomas has gone through a good amount of counseling and community service to get the opportunity to come back to the court. He is still in counseling now.
Thomas averaged 4.5 points and 3.3 assists while starting 25 games for the Wildcats as a sophomore. He knows second chances are rare. He’s not taking his for granted.
“It means a lot, that’s why I’m going out there and it’s like I’m playing for coach and the university. I’m trying to represent and try to take them as far as possible. I feel like I owe them everything,” Thomas said. “It’s my future on the line, I think I owe them a lot, so I’m going to go out there and play hard. It’s not like it’s just for me, it’s not a ‘me’ thing. They gave me another chance, so it’s more of like a ‘we.’ I got to play for coach and just show him that he made the right decision by taking me back.”
Associate head coach Shaheen Holloway has known Thomas since he was a sophomore at St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy. Both from the same neighborhood in the Bronx, Holloway has seen growth in the junior guard.
“Everything is a process, it’s all about taking steps,” Holloway said. “I think he’s taking the right steps; they’re baby steps, but he’s taking them. I think that basketball has helped him out a lot because it takes out a lot of the distractions that’s going on. I think he just wants to be on the court. He had some times at Kansas State that wasn’t too well, obviously last year what happened to him here. He bounced back, he matured, he understands, he accepts what he did and we’re moving forward.”
Their problems behind them, Willard sees great opportunity with Thomas and Jones on the court.
”[Thomas] can really disrupt the game from a defensive standpoint, he’s lightning quick, can put pressure on a defense in transition,” Willard said “But more than anything, he gives us an opportunity to have someone, with him and Madison at the front of the press, to really be able to press in January and February where we haven’t been able to press in January and February before.”
Jones has put in his time; Thomas has a bit more time to go. Both, however, are ready to put their pasts behind them and make a difference for Seton Hall.
“I just see it as effort, effort to the situation. I’m going to make the best out of it, and I think good is going to come out of it,” Thomas said.
Elizabeth Swinton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @eswint22.