HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The consensus around the Marshall basketball team about Chris Thomas is this: "Jump out of the gym."
And this: "Athletic. He can jump out of the gym."
Those quotes were provided by TyQuane Goard and Ryan Taylor, respectively, but they weren't alone in their praise of the 6-foot-5, 190-pound sophomore Thursday.
From point guard Kareem Canty: "Oh, he's real good. Real athletic, very unselfish."
And from Shawn Smith, the junior college forward: "Oh, he's nice. I don't know how to explain his game, but he's a walking bucket. He knows how to score; he knows how to win."
Thomas was the last of five new scholarship players to join the Thundering Herd program, doing so at the beginning of the semester. (That does not include Goard and Canty, who practiced with the team last season.) He is also the most celebrated, yet most enigmatic.
As the Thundering Herd begins its first practice today, the question is how to get the versatile guard integrated with the rest of the team, which ventured to Canada this summer for a five-game exhibition tour.
Coach Tom Herrion said Thomas has adapted well so far, and the team has welcomed him warmly. Herrion said Thomas is physically ready to go, having finished under 12 minutes, 20 seconds in a recent 2-mile run at Ritter Park. On top of that, Thomas has put on 12 pounds in the strength and conditioning program.
But there's a caveat, for those wanting Thomas to set the world afire from the opening tip of the Oct. 28 exhibition game against Concord.
"He's going to struggle a little bit now, because we're throwing everything at him," Herrion said. "The next couple of weeks he's going to be in overload."
Which will be fine by Thomas, who is looking for stability in a nomadic career. His road has been well documented: The many schools, the commitment to Xavier, the scholarship he lost at Manhattan amid legal troubles, etc.
"I'm ready to settle down. I've been at a lot of places," Thomas said. "So many places, so many faces. I'm ready. I've found my home. I like it here, people here are good, I'm really comfortable here and I want to make it work."
Canty said, "A lot of people might judge him off his past and stuff like that [but] he's better than what people think."
The Herd is approaching full strength, with junior-college guard Justin Edmonds and big man Yous Mbao cleared for contact. Edmonds suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in January, so MU doctors are amazed at is recovery.
Mbao is just about recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery. Cheikh Sane is healthy, but his NCAA status is trying to recover from a certification roadblock, one not uncommon for foreign players.
"It hasn't been totally resolved," Herrion said of the Senegal native's case. "It's in progress and we're moving to a very positive conclusion."
Like other coaches across the land, Herrion is dealing with a longer practice period, starting roughly three weeks earlier than the traditional Oct. 15, give or take. But that does not mean a rougher practice period - coaches can't load up on two-a-days during the preseason, and wouldn't want to anyway.
"With this new start date, it's been good for me as a coach," Herrion said. "Because it really forces you to have a little bit better management of your practice situation. With the move-up of the time, you get 30 practices in roughly a 42-day window.
"We're not going to go more than three days at a time, at least for the first three or four weeks, without a day off. Talking to a lot of coaches across the country, there's a lot of pros and cons to starting earlier. You've got to manage bodies because it's a long season. We had a long summer, because of the totality of adding in a very valuable Canada trip."
The MU men's and women's teams will conduct a Green-White scrimmage on Oct. 17. Tickets are $5 except for MU students with a valid ID and fans picking up their season tickets.
Doors will open at 4:30 p.m., with the women's team working out and scrimmaging at 5:30. The men will take the court at 7.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.
Oct. 28 Concord (exhib.) 7 p.m.
Nov. 8 South Carolina State 8 p.m.
Nov. 12 Rio Grande 7 p.m.
Nov. 17 at Morehead State TBA
Nov. 21 Stephen F. Austin 7 p.m.