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Senior spotlight: Lamar Thomas never fears taking a big shot when Atlantic City basketball team needs one

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher In a win over Holy Spirit last season, Atlantic City guard Lamar Thomas — then a junior — nailed a couple of 3-pointers in front of a capacity crowd that were absolute daggers to the hearts of the Spartans faithful. In this year’s Battle by the Bay, upstart Pleasantville was eager to knock off the Vikings for the first time in years. But Thomas poured in a game-high 19 points as Atlantic City ran away with a 70-53 win, again in front of a full house. The moment is never too big for Thomas. If a big shot has to be made, he wants to be the guy to take it. And he’s been that way throughout his entire career as a Viking. His ability to not only handle pressure, but thrive in it, probably comes from the tough love his father gave him when Lamar was a child. His dad wasn’t going to let his son win games of one-on-one and give him a false confidence. Little Lamar had to get his confidence the hard way — he had to earn it. His dad had no problem blocking young Lamar’s shots when he drove the lane. Maybe that’s why he is such a good shooter now, as a high school senior. He had to adapt his game in order to beat the old man. “I got my confidence from my father. We used to play when I was little, and I would cry a lot when he would block my shot. And he would say that I can’t be like that, I have to be tough,” Thomas said. “So he really helped me out with my confidence, him and my mom. I always wanted to win. Nobody likes losing.” “As a middle school kid, he was probably one of the most prolific shooters to come out of the middle school program in quite some time. He’s always had that certain swagger about him. He won a couple grade school championships, so he was always confident and I think that carried over into high school,” said Atlantic City coach Gene Allen. “He’s never been one to shy away from taking a big shot or trying to make a play.” Thomas is a true point guard, but had to spend much of his career as a shooting guard — which wasn’t all bad, considering how much he likes to hoist up 3-pointers. But in a program as successful as Atlantic City’s, he had to wait his turn to drive the bus, so to speak. Coach Allen admits he probably should have let Thomas gain some experience as a point guard on the junior varsity level during his freshman season, but Thomas brought too much energy and potential to the table to be relegated to JV. Atlantic City senior point guard Lamar Thomas has been one of the top players in the Cape-Atlantic League this season, and scored his 1,000th career point in February. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) Atlantic City senior point guard Lamar Thomas has been one of the top players in the Cape-Atlantic League this season, and scored his 1,000th career point in February. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) “I said to him that if I could do it all over again, I would have let him play more JV as a point guard. I think his learning curve would have been even greater than it is now. But because he had come in so highly decorated, I let him play just a little bit of JV as a freshman and he also played varsity,” Allen said. “If I had to do it over again, I would have let him play more JV as a true point guard so that he could understand the concepts more instead of just hanging out on the wing. But he now understands everything I’m looking for, and he really has become like an extension of the coaching staff on the floor. “I understand what he’s saying. If I was on JV playing a couple of quarters as a point guard, maybe my career would be different,” Thomas said. The relationship between Thomas and Allen has been an interesting one the past four seasons because they are so similar. Both are ultra-competitive, and admittedly stubborn, which has led to some on-court squabbles throughout the years. But Allen said that stems from the high expectations he has for Thomas. “I call it a blessing and a curse at the same time. You want players who aren’t afraid of the moment, but at the same time, I’m stubborn, too, so we have clashed at times. But he’s a kid that I will always want to go to battle with,” Allen said. “He didn’t quite understand his freshman and sophomore year, but some kids want to be the focal point, and he is, but sometimes I have to temper his emotions. The rest of the team sees it as if I’m not getting on him, something’s wrong. But he’s learned how to handle that kind of coaching very well. From the time he was a freshman until now, he really understands why I have been pushing him so hard, and what I want him to be. He’s been around me more than any other kid in the program, and he’s only the second player I’ve had in my tenure who has played four years of varsity.” “Coach Allen wants us to play tough basketball. We just have to play our game. It’s all about heart,” Allen said. The tough love that started with his father and carried on by Allen has certainly produced results. Atlantic City, still a relatively young basketball team, won 18 of its first 21 games this season because of the toughness of players such as Thomas and fellow senior Ryan Fader. Those two bring plenty of confidence to the court, and it resonates among the younger players. “Those two guys, Lamar and Fader, they’ve played together since eighth grade and they have a wonderful relationship,” Allen said. “The team goes as Lamar goes, and that’s a lot of responsibility for an teenage kid. But he handles it well. I’m on him more than anyone else because if the kids see me getting on him, they know good and well I can get on them, too.” Being pushed to his limits on the court has translated to success off the court as well. Thomas is an outstanding student, Allen said, and has really matured into a leader in the school, and not just on the court. “My expectations for him are so high. When I really think about it, I’m very proud of him. And I’m more proud of him off the court than I am on the court. He’s a really good student, carries a 3.4 GPA. And he has matured so much,” Allen said. “He was kind of immature when he came into high school, but now he is one of the true leaders in that school. Teachers love him, the student body loves him, the custodial staff loves him. He’s just a really nice kid, and he’s figured it out. I don’t worry about him making the transition from high school to college, because he has all the tools necessary to be successful at the college level.” Thomas is one of only a handful of players who have played four years of varsity basketball during Allen’s 12 years on the bench for the Vikings, and is just the second 1,000-point scorer Allen has had. “I don’t like to talk about points and stuff like that. When I get mine, I get mine. It’s all about the whole team,” Thomas said. “I like getting them involved, and that’s why I like playing the point guard role. I want us to win as a team and not just individuals. Ryan and I are just trying to get (the younger players) ready for their time, when they will be in our shoes. They just have to be prepared for that.” “He’s not the kind of kid who is going to say, ‘hey, look at me.’ And that’s a tribute to him as well as his family,” Allen said. “Although he has a lot of swag, he’s also very humble. He’s as confident as anyone on the basketball court, but during the school day he really blends in and he’s just a regular student.” Thomas isn’t all that comfortable talking about himself, but it’s clear to see that coach Allen and the Vikings’ basketball program has had a profound effect on his development as a basketball player and as a young man. “Coach Allen trusts me with the basketball and lets me play my game,” Thomas said. “I’m just glad I’m here. I don’t know what my life would look like without Atlantic City basketball.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]

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