Last year Thomas Edison and Allan Thomas made a name for themselves by winning the Jamaica school’s first Queens championship, unseating borough powers Cardozo and Campus Magnet in the process.
But that string of upsets came in mid February, the time of year the PSAL’s best teams tune-up for the grand stage. This March run through the city playoffs is certainly more noteworthy if not even more unexpected.
The 11th-seeded Inventors are the last team standing from the borough — and only double digit seed remaining — after shocking No. 3 Wadleigh, 80-68 — four days after besting No. 6 Curtis, 71-58 — in the PSAL Class AA quarterfinals at St. John’s behind 25 points from Thomas and 20 by Stephon Hodges, his longtime backcourt mate.
The Inventors raced out to a 19-7 lead, saw their deficit cut to six at halftime but pulled away in an impressive third quarter. With Thomas (10 points in the quarter) pumping in shots from all angles – reverse lay-ups, finger rolls, slam dunks and baby jumpers — the lead grew to an insurmountable 16, 65-49 entering the final stanza.
“He’s a big-time player,” Edison Coach John Ulmer said. “I know he’s going to step up when we need him to. He had a great game, both sides of the floor.”
Up next is a rematch with second-seeded Boys & Girls, who beat Edison earlier in the year during a holiday tournament But after taking down the high-flying Tigers and an experienced Curtis squad, the Inventors are confident.
“We like being the underdog,” Thomas said. “If they feel Edison isn’t a tough team, they got something coming. I’ll be excited to play them.”
Even though they took out Cardozo and Campus Magnet during the regular season in their first year in Queens AA, the borough’s super division, Edison struggled through an up and down regular season. They lost to the Judges in the borough semis and dropped several winnable non-league games.
Entering the city playoffs as the No. 11 seed, Edison remained No. 3 in Queens. Not anymore.
Without the hardships their recent hot play may not have been possible, Ulmer said. After the borough playoff loss, Ulmer tightened the reigns. His team, although talented, often coasted, relying on natural ability. When he saw those poor work continue through practice, he stopped workouts for lengthy lectures.
No more Mr. Nice Guy.
“I told them to man up and stop acting like little kids, to play within our and system and play as a team,” Ulmer said.
Thomas, Hodges said, has led the charge. Thomas was one of the first Inventors to turn up the intensity in practice while others weren’t giving 100 percent effort and give up shots.
He has carried Edison, not as much on the scoreboard as in other ways. In the two previous playoff wins, he averaged just over eight points, but grabbed 10 rebounds and nine assists. He set the tone against Wadleigh with 15 first-half points.
“He’s our motivation,” Hodges said of his fellow co-captain. “Before the playoffs started, all he talked about was the Garden [where the city championship game is held]. He felt our team was good enough to make it there.”
In his final year, the South Ozone Park native is looking to make the most out of his swan song. He doesn’t get another shot. One more win and his dream trip to 33rd and 7th– as a player, not a fan — can be realized.
“I really want to go to the Garden,” Thomas said. “I’m tired of sitting in the stands watching and wishing I could play.”