Staying 'right thing' for Thomas
WACO, Texas -- Harvey Thomas.
Just think about that name for a minute if you've been following the tragic summer at Baylor University.
It was Thomas who was tied to the late Patrick Dennehy and former Baylor teammate Carlton Dotson because they were his roommates. And an affidavit taken in Delaware near Dotson's Maryland hometown named a "Harvey" as the person who was threatening the pair. It's a charge that hasn't been substantiated and one Thomas refuted through two lie detector tests.
It was Thomas' name that came up during the now infamous Dave Bliss' tapes that showed the former Baylor head coach was trying to cover up NCAA violations; when Bliss told then assistant Abar Rouse that, "Harvey would do anything. And the reason is because we stuck up for Harvey; that's why we're in this jam." Bliss resigned on Aug. 8, a week before the Fort Worth Star-Telegram released the transcripts of those tapes that documented Bliss trying to cast Dennehy as a drug dealer. Bliss was trying to prove how Dennehy paid for his tuition, since he wasn't on scholarship, when it was Bliss who actually orchestrated the payments.
To this day, no one has proven Thomas knew anything about what went down between Dennehy and Dotson before their fateful day together in a field outside of Waco. Still, Dennehy is dead; Dotson is in jail in Maryland, soon to be moved to Texas for a trial in the murder of Dennehy; and there was Thomas on Saturday, in the Farrell Center for Baylor's first official practice, trying to move on with his life.
Thomas, you see, is the one person whose name surfaced in this tragic mess who is still on campus.
And, don't think for a minute he is unfazed.
"I didn't get much sleep last night," Thomas said. "I had a dream that I almost missed practice. I didn't want to miss practice. I wanted to be ready for 12 o'clock so coach wouldn't be mad at me. This is the day that everyone was waiting for. This is the day I was waiting for."
Thomas was in a Baylor uniform Saturday, just like he expected to be when he transferred from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M prior to last season -- his second junior college stop after his brief one year in Division I at Georgetown. But instead of playing for Bliss, he was listening to Scott Drew, a baby-faced 32-year old head coach who was hired to pick up the pieces left behind by Bliss in August.
Without any fanfare, Thomas was shooting jumpers. He was working with the big men. He was doing defensive slides. He was working on his ballhandling.
|“||The media was coming at me for something I didn't do (over the summer). But I chose Baylor because I wanted to come to this university. I wanted to have a degree from here because that speaks for itself in the job world. I wanted to stay and make the best of a bad situation. ”|
|— Harvey Thomas|
"I wondered if this would happen, if we would play," Thomas said. "I had my doubts if we would be able to play or be allowed to play. But I kept my faith. I never saw why they wouldn't let us play.
"All of the excitement to be back in Division I is bottled up inside me. I knew as long as I did things the right way I would stay on the team in Division I. I just didn't want to disappoint coach because I know he's got a lot invested in me."
Thomas could have bolted from Baylor just like Lawrence Roberts (Mississippi State), Kenny Taylor (Texas), John Lucas III (Oklahoma State) and Tyrone Nelson (Prairie View A&M) after the NCAA allowed Baylor players to transfer without sitting out a season. But that would have been the easy way out. Thomas knows, his leaving would have been viewed by some as running from something, maybe never finishing anything after being a basketball vagabond in high school, junior college and Division I.
"I've gone place-to-place and in some cases it wasn't my decision to leave because I have had past disagreements with people," Thomas said.
"Now I've got to stand up and be a man,'' adds Thomas, whose father Harvey Sr., died a year ago. "There's no one but me. I told Anthony (Poole, Thomas' mentor from Fredericksburg, Va.) that I don't want to run anymore. The media was coming at me for something I didn't do (over the summer). But I chose Baylor because I wanted to come to this university. I wanted to have a degree from here because that speaks for itself in the job world. I wanted to stay and make the best of a bad situation."
If Thomas had left town, and there were some feelers from major programs such as Auburn, he would have felt like a marked man on campus. He said the perception would have been that he was on the run. He said students at other schools would probably snicker and say, "that's the guy who left Baylor, he probably had something do with it."
"This was the most important decision in my life," Thomas said. "I could have gone elsewhere. But I wouldn't have known how another program would have accepted me. I would have felt more pressure going somewhere else."
Once he decided to stay at Baylor, Thomas said his main concern was getting along with the new coach.
"I've been happy with my decision to stay," Thomas said. "I did the right thing by staying."
As much as he focuses on the future, Thomas knows Dennehy's death will continue to be part of his life. Not only did he lose a friend, but once the Dotson trial begins, Thomas will be interviewed as the investigation continues.
"I'm not worried about it right now," Thomas said. "If it happens, that I have to go and talk, then it will be done the right way. Coach Drew will let me know what I have to do and it will be taken care of the right way. I would have legal representation there.
"If I went to Auburn or somewhere else then they might not have wanted anything to do with me. They might have just put me out there and said, 'go talk to these guys.' Things might not have been set up the right way."
As for his life as a Baylor student, Thomas said he's been treated as if he is any other student, or at the very least, every other basketball player. He said he has no harsh treatment from anyone in the community. But he knows he won't be free of the tragic albatross that the Dotson-Dennehy story has become until there is closure on the case.
"As long as this case is going on there will be questions," Thomas said. "It's not going to end until the case does. But people who know me, know I'm a good guy. I just want to go to school and play ball. Everything is back to normal since coach (Drew) came. I feel like a student here."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.