After going undrafted out of Kansas in 1998, Billy Thomas bounced around Europe and the minor leagues before being signed to two ten-day contracts by the New Jersey Nets and then eventually for the remained of the 04-05 season. He spent some more time in the minor leagues and eventually got another call-up by the Washington Wizards. Earlier this season, while playing for the Colorado 14ers of the NBA Development League, Thomas was averaging just under 16 points a game when he was called-up again by the Nets before being released and returning to the 14ers. Yesterday, a week after playing the D-League All-Star game, the Cleveland Cavaliers gave him a call-up along with teammate Kaniel Dickens. I spoke with Billy just after that All-Star game about his journey around the minor leagues and his time in Europe.
Richard Walker: You were born in Shreveport [Louisiana], so is this like a homecoming of sorts?
Billy Thomas: Its always good to be back. Even if its not your own town its your own state.
Richard Walker: Congrats on being an All-Star. How do you feel about this whole thing?
Billy Thomas: Very privileged. Knowing how fortunate I am to still be playing basketball, and playing basketball for a living, and to still be considered one of the best players in the league.
Richard Walker: Youve played in quite a few minor leagues USBL, IBL how does this one compare to those other leagues?
Billy Thomas: Because its tied directly to the NBA its the ultimate, if you will, in minor league basketball. It gives you great exposure. Ive been called up a couple of times and it gives you the confidence to know youre one step away.
Richard Walker: You just touched on it, but you have a history with the [New Jersey] Nets that allowed you to get called up earlier this season. How did that work?
Billy Thomas: Its being prepared when youre number is called, and thats what being a professional is about whether youre here or up there. I was just fortunate enough to be ready and to get another opportunity to be in the NBA.
Richard Walker: Youve been called up by both the [Washington] Wizards and the Nets. That pretty much puts you on the fast track to another one. Have you been hearing anything about if thats a realistic scenario?
Billy Thomas: It is. Its a realistic scenario for anybody who played in this game today. For me individually its just about: keep working, keep doing the things I do, keep doing the things Ive been blessed to do. You never know, man, but thats the reason we play. That one day waking up where a team needs your services.
Richard Walker: It seems like you have a pretty good idea of what it takes, but is there something specific youre working on?
Billy Thomas: Everything that incorporates being a basketball player at my position. Youve got to defend, youve got be able to make shots, youve got to show that you know how to play basketball. Your basketball IQ is important, and thats what I try to pass on to some of the other guys; that its not all about trying to come out and score 20 points every night, its about showing you know how to play.
Richard Walker: Do you mind if I ask you what happened in Europe [with Crvena Zvezda]?
Billy Thomas: It was just a situation where I wasnt happy with the European club so I decided not to go back. They werent paying me on time, and all sorts of things like that, so I left.
Richard Walker: Right, that can happen with some of those European clubs.
Billy Thomas: Yeah, so what they wanted to do was get back at me, and so they kind of railroaded me. Its a Serbian team and its mostly Serbians running the FIBA organization and it was a situation where they said I couldnt play this season. Ill try again next season. If the NBA doesnt work out then Ill be there.
Richard Walker: So its only for this season [that youre ineligible to play]?
Billy Thomas: Yeah, its through April of this season.
Richard Walker: Nice. Are you hearing any rumors backstage about people getting called up?
Billy Thomas: Not sure man, but if there was I wish that rumor was about me!
Richard Walker: I wish it was about you too!
Billy Thomas: I appreciate it.
Richard Walker: Thanks a lot.
Billy Thomas: No problem.
Richard Walker: Take care.