J.T. Thomas shouldn't have any trouble adjusting to life on the road when he joins the University of Toledo men's basketball team next season.
After all, he played three straight years of away games.
The New Orleans native and his family were displaced by Hurricane Katrina, forcing Thomas to attend Bishop Dunne in Dallas for his first three years of high school while his house on the east side of the city was rebuilt.
"It was a tough time in my life, but it made me a better person and mentally stronger," Thomas said Monday. "It made me mature quicker, both on and off the court. It's helped me a lot."
Just before the hurricane made landfall in August, 2005, Thomas and his family took shelter at the Hyatt Regency across from the Superdome. As conditions worsened, more and more people sought refuge at the hotel.
"Nobody thought the hurricane was going to be that bad," Thomas said. "They moved everybody to the ballroom when the storm hit, and that's when everything got pretty much destroyed. That's also when we realized we were going to be staying there for a while.
"We stayed there for like a whole week, and it was real hectic. There were no lights, no food, no water."
At long last, Thomas and his family would board a bus bound for Dallas, where they lived in hotels for the next few months before finding an apartment and taking up semi-permanent residence.
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound point guard returned home for his senior season at Edna Karr High School in the fall of 2008, when he averaged 18 points and six assists per game.
"It was great to be back home with my friends I grew up with and back in my own house," Thomas said.
The college scholarships never materialized for Thomas, however, so he attended IMG Academy, a prep school in Bradenton, Fla., last season to boost his profile and further refine his game.
In just 16 contests after breaking his foot in
September, Thomas averaged 18 points, seven rebounds, and four assists per game.
"I got a lot better, improved my body and my skills," Thomas said, "and it allowed me better opportunities. I had some schools looking at me in high school, but I wanted to get better and see what the prep school route could bring me."
It eventually led Thomas to UT coach Tod Kowalczyk and assistant Ryan Pedon, a former Miami (Ohio) assistant who was hired by Kowalczyk in April and served as the main contact during Thomas' recruitment.
"We are extremely excited that J.T. has made the decision to join our Rocket family," Kowalczyk said. "He's a talented guard who possesses all the intangibles we're looking for. J.T. has a very good feel for the game and is someone who plays with toughness, can score in a variety of ways, and possesses the athleticism needed to become a good defender."
Thomas is expected to compete for the role as the Rockets' starting point guard, a position Kowalczyk was adamant needed to be addressed during the offseason.
"I've been playing point guard since I was four years old, so that's where I feel the most comfortable," Thomas said. "
I'm hoping to make everybody else around me better and help Toledo finish with a winning season. That's where my mind-set is at coming into college."
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