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Men’s Basketball: Popular ex-Cajun forward Thomas lost ‘way too soon – update funeral arrangements ‘

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, March 19, 2018

Update: According to a Legacy.com obituary, funeral services will be held at 12 p.m. Saturday at Bellevue Street Baptist Church in Opelousas "for Mr. Johnny ‘J-Jay’ Thomas Sr., 25, who entered eternal rest, Sunday, March 18, 2018, in Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge." Visiting hours will be observed from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday at the church. The original story …

A former UL basketball player who died Sunday is being remembered as a popular teammate and person.

J.J. Thomas played two seasons for the Ragin’ Cajuns from 2010-12.

"Very sad news," Cajuns basketball coach Bob Marlin said Monday.

"He’s a great person and he was so full of life. He was a joy to coach. What a freshman year he had. He was fantastic. I can remember him hanging 25-plus on Western Kentucky as a freshman in front of about 7,300 fans one night in the Cajundome. … Just a sad day for our basketball family."

Tweeted Marlin after word spread Sunday: “Lost one of my first @RaginCajunsMBB signees today way too soon. … RIP JJ Thomas.” Marlin’s tweet was accompanied by hashtags with Thomas’ UL uniform number, 5, and the phrase “fearthebeard”

UL built a popular “Fear the Beard” promotional campaign around the bearded Thomas during his freshman season, Marlin’s first as coach of the Cajuns.

An Opelousas native, Thomas was named the Louisiana Class 5A Most Outstanding Player after a senior season at Scotlandville Magnet High in which he averaged 24.2 points and 14.5 rebounds for the Hornets.

He helped lead Scotlandville to the 5A state championship game in 2010, scoring 25 points and pulling down 19 rebounds in a 55-54 loss to Brother Martin High at the Cajundome.

Thomas also was a member of the National Honor Society at Scotlandville.

The 6-foot-5, 225-pound forward averaged 11.3 points and 6.2 rebounds over 24.4 minutes per game as a UL freshman, then 8.6 points, 5.5 boards and 21.1 minutes during a sophomore season in which he was hampered by a knee injury.

Thomas then transferred to Cal State Northridge, sat out a season in accord with NCAA transfer rules and averaged 2.8 points and 2.2 rebounds over 28 games in 2013-14.

Tweeted ex-Cajuns guard Bryant Mbamalu, who now plays professionally in Chile: “Just finished my game and heard the news my college teammate passed away. So many emotions going thru my head right now. Life is short the Bible says in James 4:14 our life on earth is only but a mist. One second you see it the next it’s gone. Vanishes. RIP JJ Thomas”

Multiple coaches who recruited the affable Thomas also tweeted about his death:

  • Current Texas A&M assistant Ulric Maligi: “My heart goes out to the Thomas family right now. RIP JJ Thomas. You will truly be missed. I’m still in shock. I never got to coach you but you trusted me & our staff at Stephen F. Austin. We always had good talks. You introduced me to boudin lol. Love always! #GoneTooSoon”
  • Current Port Allen High coach Derrick Jones: “I just want to take a moment to wish my most sincere condolences to the Thomas family. I tried to recruit JJ twice both at UNO and at LA Tech and I got to know him pretty well. I pray for his family and his brother Pancake during this difficult time. Rest well big fella.”

One of Thomas’ brothers, Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas, originally signed with UL, but wound up playing instead at New Mexico, Hartford and Western Kentucky.

“Words can’t describe what I’m feeling as I type this! JJ Thomas you were one of the good kids and young men,” Baton Rouge-area AAU coach and Louisiana Basketball Report owner Bobby Sibley posted on Facebook. “A talented athlete, great person, infectious smile and personality. Just a joy to be around. A caring and loving person. One that always wanted to be the best player and person.

“Your life and legacy  will forever be remembered at Scotlandville. You were an Opelousas kid that made it. You survived the struggle and got out. Can’t believe this. My heart hurts!! … Rest Easy big fella!! Love ya JJ!”

Athletic Network Footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas.
Please click here for a photo of J.J. and his 2010-2011 teammates.