With an ability to shoot jumpers, drive to the hoop and dish out assists, Jermaine Thomas has earned spots on all sorts of basketball teams over the years.
But aside from his basketball skills, the Thomas Johnson graduate’s ability to speak a little Hungarian and know the Hungarian national anthem helped him out this time. That’s because Thomas needed to become a Hungarian citizen to land a spot on his latest team.
Thomas will play for the Hungarian national senior team this summer. Thomas, who grew up in Frederick and didn’t venture outside the United States until he began his pro basketball career, became a citizen of the European country in December, giving the United States native dual citizenship.
In August, Thomas’ Hungarian team will play in the European Championship Qualification round, which serves as a first step to a possible spot in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. He’ll play in places like the Czech Republic and Austria.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” said Thomas, who recently returned to the United States and plans to go back to Hungary July 7. “I’ll be traveling all around this summer. When I get back (to Hungary), I’ll be full tilt, getting ready for national team training.”
Thomas’ national team experience follows a successful season with Sopron KC in Hungary’s A Division, which is the country’s top-tier professional league (it’s also known as the Nemzeti Bajnokság I/A league). Thomas helped Sopron KC win a bronze medal in the A Division playoffs.
He averaged 13.6 points and 3.7 assists. Being a Hungarian citizen, Thomas was named to the league’s All-Domestic Players team. He didn’t even count as an American on Sopron KC’s roster. (A Division teams can have no more than three U.S. players.)
Thomas also made a good impression on Hungarian national coach Stojan Izkovic, who coached Kecskemeti in the Hungarian league.
“I had some of my best games against him,” Thomas said.
While Thomas is listed as a point guard, a role he played so well at Thomas Johnson and La Salle University, he’s also been utilized as a shooting guard. Of course, that term loses a little meaning in Hungary. Practically every player on the court can nail jumpers in Hungary’s A Division.
It’s a good thing Thomas developed a jumper when he played for TJ coach Tom Dickman. Early in his high school career, Thomas did the bulk of his scoring on drives to the hoop.
“I thank him to death,” Thomas said of Dickman. “Without a jump shot, I wouldn’t be here.”
That jump shot helped Thomas become an even more prolific scorer for the Patriots. During his final high school season in 2001-02, Thomas set a record for most career points by a Frederick County Public Schools boys basketball player with 1,973, a mark that stood until Oakdale’s Zach Thomas — no relation to Jermaine — broke it this season.
“He’s a Thomas, so I’ll let that slide,” Jermaine Thomas said with a laugh. “I’m happy for him. Records are made to be broken.”
While at Thomas Johnson, Thomas never envisioned playing overseas.
“My whole motivation at TJ was NBA, it wasn’t Europe,” Thomas said.
The guard didn’t begin thinking about playing in Europe until his college career drew to a close at La Salle. While he has also played in Germany, Austria and Poland, Thomas has played five of his eight professional seasons with Hungarian teams.
Working with tutors, he learned how to speak Hungarian, a skill that helped his bid to become a Hungarian citizen.
While Thomas enjoys life in Hungary, he misses family and friends in his native country. Still, he said he felt blessed for being able to travel to different countries and continue playing the game he loves.
Thomas has run into some familiar faces from the U.S. in Hungary’s A Division. One of them is Kaposvari guard Louis Hinnant, a former Gwynn Park player who faced Thomas’ Patriots.
Thomas, who is 30, hopes to play for another six or seven seasons. He’s never had a serious injury. And by now, the Frederick native is used to the European brand of basketball.
The high-scoring games Thomas churned out at TJ — he often scored at least 30 points and he tied Mike Rice’s team single-game record with 51 points — are relatively rare in Hungary’s A Division.
“The NBA is more individual, one-on-one,” Thomas said. “Over here, it’s more team-oriented. You don’t have guys going off, getting 30, 40, 50 points a game. A 30-point game over here is just an amazing game.”
Playing in Hungary offers some similarities to playing in the NBA, at least when it comes to signing autographs for fans.
“Over there, basketball for them, they look at us like NBA stars,” he said. “Some of the kids don’t have paper. They make you sign their skin. It makes it worthwhile when someone admires what you’re doing.”