The D&E Connection: Off-court bond produces on-court chemistry
Monday, February 5, 2007

Some pizza rolls and a quick snack were all roommates Andrew Reed and Eryk Thomas wanted.


However, some forgotten grease on a hot baking sheet quickly led to a small grease fire, and a few minutes later Eryk was running for help and Drew was filling their small Buc Ridge apartment with a fire extinguisher's smoky discharge.


While their cooking skills may need some polishing, their basketball skills are in much better shape. Thomas, a senior forward from Fremont, Calif., and Reed, a junior forward from Port Richey, Fla., are using their friendship and competitive character to help ignite the ETSU men's basketball team to a potential Atlantic Sun Conference championship.


"Eryk and I feed off each other when we are on the court," Reed said. "If he gets a big block, it gets me fired up. It's a competition between us, but it's a good competition because it helps the team in the long run."


Thomas agreed.


"We look to each other to get motivated," Thomas said. "I think we compliment each other's game. He wants to dunk on someone's head and I would rather do a finger roll."


The Bucs' recent successes may very well be linked to the inside tandem of Reed and Thomas. With an 11-1 record in A-Sun play, the Bucs are currently riding a season-high nine-game winning streak, matching their longest since the 2003-04 season.


During those wins, Thomas has averaged 10 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Moreover, Thomas set personal bests defensively in a win over Jacksonville with eight steals and six blocks, while picking up an astounding 19 boards in a win over Belmont. Even more impressive is the fact that he leads the conference in field goal percentage (.630) and is tied for second in block shots (1.33).


Reed has also been a dominant force inside for the Bucs, averaging 9.1 ppg and 5.2 rpg this season, more than doubling his figures offensively during the 2005-2006 campaign. He also ranks fifth in the A-Sun in both field goal percentage (.566) and block shots (1.17).    


While their style of play has its similarities, the two also share a strong network of support from their families back home. Even though a great deal of distance may separate them, the love and encouragement of their families is always present.


"I don't think the distance affects their ability to support me because I know they are watching and listening on the internet," said Thomas, referring to the live video streaming available at "Last year they came to a couple games, but this year, it's like they are trying to get here every week. It's just wonderful how much support they show."


Thomas said his parents have always been supportive, providing him encouragement especially when times are challenging. For him, the transition from Santa Rosa Junior College to East Tennessee State was a rather difficult one.


"It's such a culture shock out here," Thomas said. "My first year was a little rough. I was kind of homesick and I think it affected my all around life out here. I just love where I'm from."


Nonetheless, the proud Bay Area native has adjusted well to life in Johnson City and has come to appreciate its many attributes.


"I like Johnson City because it's secluded," Thomas said. "It's a place to get away. Where I'm from I'm just another person, but out here, people are like ‘hey that's number 20."  


Reed too appreciates the mountainous city, but for reasons much different than those of his roommate. With his mother relocating back to Chicago, Drew is now closer to home. 


Although it may be reduced, distance is still a factor for his family members who live in both Illinois and Florida, making it difficult for Reed's family to attend games. But like Thomas, Reed doesn't allow the distance to affect the relationship he has with his family.


"We are very close," he said. "I talk to them all the time. They try to make it to some of my games during my birthday and tournament time."


Reed's mother, Penelope, has always supported her family - a group that includes five boys and one girl. Even more impressive is the fact that she's done it by herself. Reed's mother also played a significant role in her son's academics. In fact, Reed credits his mom for most of the success he has had in the classroom.


"My dad died when I was three so I was raised by my mom," Reed said. "She is a very strong-willed woman. My mother always stressed academics because you never know if sports will get you to college. If I got a C, she would get on me."


His mother left a lasting impression on Reed, especially when it comes to the classroom.


"I have always taken pride in academics," he says. "What if you get hurt? You always have to have a Plan B, something to fall back on."


Thomas came to the same realization as Drew, but just later in his college career.


"I think when I went home last summer, I reflected on last year and I realized that I wasn't mature about getting what I needed to get done in the classroom and on the court," Thomas said. "You just have to step it up and get ready for the real world and I'm close to being done with college."


Indeed, Thomas' renewed commitment to both his academics and his game has paid dividends. He has become a solid contributor to the Bucs' recent successes, all the while taking to his role as team captain. Reed has certainly seen the change.


"He's improved as far as his perimeter game and his defense is just getting better and better," Reed said. "He is our number one stopper. We always put him on the best offensive player on the other team and he always does a great job keeping their numbers down."


Thomas said it was time to step up.


"It's like I have a sense of urgency because this is my last year," he said. "This sense of urgency makes me want to just work that much harder in practice and dig deeper in games. I think it's just the overall growth within the year that's changed me."


Ironically, his teammate and roommate has also amplified his game statistically, posting almost the same numbers as Thomas.


"Drew is just a phenomenal athlete," Thomas said. "He is athletic, strong, aggressive passionate. I mean, that is everything you want in a college player."


Reed said he can tell a difference in his game this year.


"This year, I feel like my role on the team has changed just a little bit," Reed said. "I still have to rebound, still have to block shots, but I am also more in the swing of things on the offensive side."


Reed and Thomas are both proud of their numbers, but they credit most of their success to their teammates.


"My numbers are just coming from everyone else producing and helping me produce," Reed said. Thomas added, "I wouldn't be as good of a defender now if it wasn't for my teammates. Defense isn't just one person's effort it is everyone on the basketball court doing their part."


Reed and Thomas share good times away from the court as well.


"One of my hobbies is reading," Reed said. "I like to read, but I also like playing video games with my teammates. We play Halo a lot." Thomas agreed, "Since I came out here, the whole down time is spent playing that game. We consider ourselves greats out here."


The roommates' simple amusement toward the advanced video game may very well stem from the fact that it is projected across an entire wall in their Buc Ridge apartment.


"My friend bought a new projector my freshmen year and decided to give me his old one," Reed said. "It actually is a big accent to our apartment."


While the projector is typically used to watch video games and movies, it seems to be taking on another purpose - creating off-court chemistry. Now, the multipurpose device goes everywhere Reed and Thomas go, including away games.


"We take it on road trips," Reed said. "I think it's an asset to the team because it brings everyone together."


Hopefully, the on and off-court bonding will continue to boost the Bucs overall team performance, and extend their winning-streak. With only six regular season conference games left in his collegiate career, Thomas said that he enjoys being captain of a team that he thinks can make it to the NCAA Tournament.


"It's a good feeling to be captain," he said. "As a captain, you have to lead more by example. You have to be more mature, and just someone the freshmen can come talk to. We are so close to getting something that hasn't been here for a couple of years, and for us to achieve that would be a great way to end my year at ETSU."


With their time as roommates and teammates slowly depleting, Reed said that he will miss his good friend.


"I think it will be hard to fill the void that Eryk will leave because of the role that he plays," he said. "I will be losing a roommate and also a close friend."


But hopefully, they can share one lasting memory in the NCAA Tournament. And they can relive those moments the rest of their lives - as long as Reed still has his famous projector.


By Holly Moring

ETSU Media Relations