Former Toro Trades Sneakers for Oxfords

With the 2011 NBA D-League draft next month, teams have begun to invite former players to training camp. The Austin Toros invited Lance Thomas and Leo Lyons, who are both currently at Pan-Am training camp. Noticeably absent from the invite list is veteran forward Michael Joiner. Joiner, who spent the past two seasons with the Austin Toros, played overseas this summer and returned home knowing that his basketball career was coming to an end.

“At this time in my life I’m at a crossroad” said Joiner. “Ever since I came back from China I’m not playing. I didn’t have the passion or drive to want to play.”

Joiner will be turning 30 later this month and is beginning to transition in to corporate America.

“I’ve been on the hunt fixing my resume and going to job fairs.”

The Florida State alum has a few things going for him that many who are unemployed don’t have the luxury of having: a bank account stocked with money from an overseas contract and a pair of degrees – Bachelors and Masters – that are ready to be put to use. Both degrees were acquired via scholarships. Due to the partnership between the D-League and University of Phoenix online Joiner was able to receive his Master in Business Administration specialization in Human Resource Management while playing basketball.

The realization of moving on in life and past the D-League is easily summed up by Joiner, “Eventually all of us have to get a job and find another source of income.”

Though Joiner knew last season was going to be his final season with the Toros he still enjoyed the opportunity that they gave him. Often seen on the bench in the second half of the season, Joiner was still able to bond with his teammates and this off-season was able to provide them advice as to what they should do with their basketball careers.

These talks led to Lyons and Thomas returning to the Toros this season.

“That’s my wolfpack and this is a good situation for them… It’s a chance for them to show what they worked on all summer.”

Lyons, 24, and Thomas, 23 are in their basketball prime and have the opportunity to stand out and be noticed by a scout in the D-League. Though currently NBA Call-ups are non-existent due to the NBA lockout, the opportunity to receive a lucrative contract overseas is still possible.

So while the future looks bright for two of the Toros’ youngest stars, it’s not all doom and gloom for Joiner. Aside from having a respectable pro basketball career under his belt, he is thankful to the D-League for providing the opportunity to be more than just a former player. Now Joiner leaves the sport with two degrees listed on his curriculum vitae that are much more impressive than any double-double he totaled throughout his basketball career.

Green joins Toros for double OT loss; Jones looks back on first season

The Austin Toros (22-28) managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in a double-overtime offensive showcase Saturday night, capping off an up-and-down season. Texas pulled away the second overtime, winning 134-128.

“You’ve got to give Texas some credit because we kind of had the game in control,” head coach Brad Jones said. “We missed some free throws and they made some tough three pointers, but you’ve got to give them the credit for not quitting. But at the same time, we gave them some life by missing some free throws and having turnovers down the stretch.”

The Legends had everything to play for. A win meant they were in the playoffs, while a loss ended their season. The Toros had nothing riding on this one in terms of the postseason, yet they found themselves up 108-100 with about a minute left. That’s when the wheels came off.

Booker Woodfox made a three on the Legends next possession. Then, Texas trapped the Toros and came up with a steal and found Justin Dentmon open for a trifecta to make it 109-108 Toros with 15 seconds left.

After four clutch Aubrey Coleman free throws, the score was 113-110 with less than 10 seconds left. That’s when Rashad McCants saved the Legends season by hitting a three-pointer to tie the game with four seconds left. McCants had 28 points on the night.

Leo Lyons’ potential game-winner rimmed out, and Marcus Cousin could not control the tip in and this one was headed for an unexpected overtime period.

The extra period mirrored the end of regulation for the Toros. When Toro-for-a-day Danny Green (on loan from the Spurs) knocked down an open three, Austin was leading 118-113 with 1:40 left.

A 5-0 Legends run tied it at 118, before Coleman, who led the Toros with 30 points, made a three. That put Austin up 121-118 with nine seconds left. That’s when lightning struck again. Woodfox, who only played ten minutes on the night, made his second cold-blooded three of the game with two seconds left, tying the score.

Squeaky Johnson’s three at the buzzer looked good out of his hand, but hit the front of the rim, sending it into double overtime. This was the third home game to go into double-overtime this season, and second against the Legends.

Austin got up 127-123 on a Johnson three, but then the Joe Alexander show resumed. Alexander was two for two from the field and three for three from the foul line in the second overtime.

Sean Williams’ free throws with ten seconds left put his team up by four with ten seconds left and the Toros could not answer. Williams had 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Alexander led all scorers and rebounders with 36 and 15.

Given the turnover in the D-League, Jones’ post game talk with his players was also his farewell speech to many of them.

“I told them that the goal in this league, whether you win a championship or not is we make them feel like they’ve gotten better,” he said. “That’s the goal of our staff. Everyday we come to work trying to help them get better, while at the same time winning some games. Hopefully they feel that way. We didn’t meet all of our team goals, but hopefully they met some of their individual goals.”

One player that already has a taste of the NBA is Green. On Saturday, Green was one of six Toros in double figures, with 19 points and seven rebounds.

“It was an exciting game for the fans,” Green said. “But if you’re a Toro, you’re pretty disappointed because we had the game won multiple times at the end, but we couldn’t just close out.”

Even though Green had virtually no time to practice and get acclimated with his team, he felt pretty comfortable.

“Given the short notice, I felt like things clicked pretty well,” he said. “I’m not the type of guy to come in and just put up a bunch of shots and force the issue. I know they have some things going here. So I just wanted to keep their chemistry flowing and play a small role and just knock down open shots for them and help them on defense hopefully.

“If they need me to do something, then yeah, but tonight, they really didn’t need that. They have some guards that can get in the paint and make some things happen.”

Green will now look to help the parent club down the stretch run as they try to snap their losing skid.

“I believe I’m going back to the Spurs tonight, we play Phoenix tomorrow, and we’ll see what happens from there,” he said. “Hopefully we can break the losing streak, so we’ll see what goes on. (The big guys) are all healthy and we’re playing better.”

Lance Thomas, who suffered a seizure on court last Saturday, was courtside cheering on his teammates.

“I feel fine,” Thomas said. “The hit I took was pretty bad at the moment with what happened, but I feel fine now. I have to wait a little bit until I have clearance from the doctors. From the standpoint of day-to-day from when it happened, I feel fine.”

Thomas said once he receives doctor’s permission to resume full-contact basketball, he will decide his next basketball move. He hates having to sit out and said this one was especially tough to watch.

“I hate watching period,” Thomas said. “Just to watch a nail biter like that, it was tough, especially when you want to get out there and help. I’ve been a part of this team since the beginning of the season, so it’s hard to watch my guys out there without me.”

Nevertheless, he was proud of his guys.

“I thought they left it on the floor,” he said. “I think there were plays where the other team did better than we did, and there were plays when we had to tough it out, but there was no question of our effort.”

Thomas is one of the Toros young up-and-comers with dreams of playing in the NBA. Jones would love to see all his guys fulfill their professional aspirations.

“I hope all these guys end up in the NBA or oversees making 50 grand a month, so hopefully none of them are back because they’re all making a gazillion dollars,” Jones said. “Having said that, I really like this group we have right now and obviously if it fit in their career path, then we would love to have them come back.”

Jones, who was talking with Spurs GM R.C. Buford and VP of Basketball Operations Danny Ferry after the game outside the locker room, will take the next few days to do some exit interviews and start planning for the summer.

“We’ll see what the Spurs want from us and what we have to do as a staff,” Jones said.

Overall, Jones said his first season with the Toros was both fun and disappointing.

“At times (I had fun),” Jones said. “Every year, there is a challenge. It was a little bit more of a challenge this year with all the roster turnover. Not being able to fulfill the team goals of winning more, I’m very disappointed about, but in the midst of all the fight is a lot of fun. Sometimes you just don’t get the outcome you desire.”

Toros’ Thomas doing fine after scare

Lance ThomasAs I reported earlier today, Toros forward Lance Thomas had an epileptic seizure during the second quarter of today’s game against the Idaho Stampede.

He was helped to the floor by several players and was carted off on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital.

“It was a freak accident. The guy just came down real hard on him,” Thomas’ teammate Michael Joiner said. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

According to several players, coach Brad Jones and Thomas’ sister, he had no history of seizures on or off the court.

“No! that’s why it was especially scary, but I just spoke to him, he’s ok,” Thomas’ sister, Caroline Buck, told me via Twitter.

As Buck said, it looks like Thomas will be ok and, according to Joiner, he won’t be at the hospital for too long.

“He actually joked around about coming back into the game so I think he’s making progress,” Joiner said. “It looks like he’s going to be ok and he won’t have to stay overnight (at the hospital).”

Joiner and the rest of the Toros were off to visit Thomas at the hospital, and several tweets indicate what we had heard, and that Thomas will indeed be fine.

Thomas himself took to Twitter and said he feels better.

“I’m feeling a lot better everyone! Thanks for the love and for caring.”

Thomas suffers seizure during Stampede game

In what was a very scary moment here at the Cedar Park Center, after running back on offense during the second quarter, Toros forward Lance Thomas had what appeared to be an episode of an epileptic seizure.

We have not found any history of seizures in his basketball history, but we’ll have more information after the game and wish him a speedy recovery.

UPDATE:

Thomas is going much better and even joked about getting back into the game.  Keep it here as more details are forthcoming.

Video recap: Austin Toros vs. Iowa Energy

Lance Thomas: Reading books and working hard

Austin Toros forward Lance Thomas has a knack for giving 100 percent of his energy to everything he does. Recently he started reading books. Thomas claims he has read more books in the last three months than he did in four years at Duke.

“All my teammates laugh at me because I’m sitting there with my little Kindle,” Thomas said. “I love it, I’ve been breezing through books. When we’re in the airport, sometimes I don’t even hear them say we’re boarding, I’m so glued to my book.”

When Thomas is on the basketball court, he has a similar level of focus. His goal with the Toros is to improve and make an NBA team. NBA scouts have noticed his attitude and talent. Head coach Brad Jones said Thomas is always one of the first players scouts ask about.

“They say he catches their eye right away with the way he’s committed to both ends of the floor and the way he works,” Jones said.

Thomas is hoping it is finally his time to shine after a college career defined by sacrifice.

He was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of Newark St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey where he led his team to two state titles.

His transition to playing college basketball at Duke was not what he expected initially. As a freshman, he was able to start for the Blue Devils, but was asked to play defense and rebound by Coach Mike Krzyzewski and not worry so much about scoring points.

“That’s all he wanted me to do,” Thomas said. “I was like, ‘that’s all I have to do to get on the floor?’ I did everything he asked me to and played some good minutes my freshman year.”

He stayed on the floor, starting all four years. His role would not change much though. Defense and hustle were what Krzyzewski wanted from Thomas, so that’s what he gave him. 

Thomas accepted his role and developed into the guy who would lead his team by example, always hustling, always giving it his all defensively. No longer was he concerned about how many points he scored, Thomas did what his coach told him to do to help the team win.

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For the Toros it’s win or go home

The month of March brings many great things: warmer weather, longer days, and more importantly March Madness. The overwhelming amount of college basketball turns bandwagon fans in to betting junkies who fill out multiple brackets that tend to cause more frustration than one could assume.

In the D-League, the month of March brings a win or go home mentality. With three teams already claiming post-season invitations, five spots are still up for grabs. Unfortunately for the Toros they are in a position where if they don’t keep winning their season could be over in 11 games.

Talk about a pressure situation.

Fortunately for the Austin Toros the team has four players who have experience playing in March. Most importantly they have a guy who knows what it is like to play for a national title. Who’s that guy? Toros’ Lance Thomas.

Thomas, who was drafted in the second round by the Toros, won a national title last year with the Duke Blue Devils. The thrilling win came in a close victory over Butler 61-59. Thomas is the only Toros player who knows what it is like to be invited to the big dance every year during his collegiate career.

So what’s the difference that a year makes?

“It’s the same for me. March is big for college basketball. I got a taste of winning and I still want to win,” said the rookie forward.

His teammates who have participated in the NCAA tournament (Tre Kelley 2004, Kyle Weaver 2007-2008, and Aubrey Coleman 2010) have never made it past the Sweet 16.

The experience that the team has from playing in March might be enough to allow them to continue their season in April. Is it enough to carry them to the D-League Finals? Who knows but Thomas seems confident that the team has what it takes to bring the first D-League Championship trophy to Austin.

“We’ve got quick play. We’ve figured out what we need to do to win. A lot of teams have maxed out already. We’ve got a good group of guys who share a goal to make it to the next level.”

Before the Toros can make plans for playoffs they must first continue their two-game win streak on the road. The team tips-off tonight against the Texas Legends in their first of four remaining games against their in-state rivals.

When asked if Duke had what it takes to repeat Thomas was confident in his response.

“Definitely. Leadership and talent are both there. I’ve watched them be the tougher team many times this season.”

Thomas’ alma mater faces off against Maryland tonight at 6:00 CST in the ACC quarterfinals. A win over the Terps could lead to a better seed at the NCAA tournament for the fifth ranked Blue Devils.

Follow Lance Thomas on twitter @slangmagic.

T-Birds’ balanced scoring attack too much for Toros

James Anderson

James Anderson (Toros Nation photo)

By Mikkayla Guillett and Michael De Leon

The Austin Toros dropped to 11-14 on the season Thursday night with a 104-93 loss to the New Mexico Thunderbirds at Cedar Park Center.

While the Toros relied on their three-point shooting to get past the sixth place Reno Bighorns just a day before, they struggled with their perimeter game through the first half on Thursday, connecting on just 14 percent of their threes.

The Toros were able to stay with the Thunderbirds and took a 22-21 lead after one quarter, led in scoring by James Anderson with seven points and Lance Thomas with five.

But the Thunderbirds went on a 7-0 run to close out the second quarter 42-35. Dar Tucker and Marcus Hubbard led the Thunderbirds in scoring, with eight points apiece at the half.

The Toros came out of intermission hoping to close the Thunderbirds’ lead. Instead what ensued was the Dar Tucker show. With the help of Dar Tucker the Thunderbirds put up a number of dunks early in the quarter. Anderson’s long-jumper jumpstarted a Toros 9-0 run that gave them their first lead of the second half, 64-62. Their lead didn’t last long as the Thunderbirds battled back and finished out the quarter strong to hold a 71-66 lead. Cousin’s tip-in at the buzzer provided cheers from the crowd, but no points on the board.

Josh Bostic stretched the lead to 11 after a pair of freebies shortly after the quarter started. The team led the entire quarter. The Toros came within six on a few occasions but it wasn’t enough to secure the win.

Defense seemed to plague the Toros throughout the game. Several Thunderbirds players were able to get into the paint and finish pretty easily and that seemed to be the one area several Toros players and coach Brad Jones saw as something to improve on before their next game on Saturday.

“It seemed like we were playing uphill all night long,” Toros coach Brad Jones said. “We had a hard time staying in front of them. I thought they were the more physical team.”

Player of the game Squeaky Johnson led the team with 20 points and five assists. Three other Toros scored in double-figures (Anderson 17, Thomas 15, and Lyons 14).

Six Thunderbirds players scored in double figures. Hubbard, who started the season with the Toros, recorded a season high, shooting 8 of 10 from the field and putting up 19 points.

“We need to have a better defensive mindset going into our next game,” forward Lance Thomas said. “When we play like that we look really bad. I can’t wait to play them again.”

Thomas and the Toros won’t have to wait too long. They play the Thunderbirds again on Saturday at noon at the Cedar Park Center.