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Big Apple's Mookie is a sportsman to the core

CHESTER Jets' point guard John Thomas has proved to be one of the most explosive and entertaining players in the British game this season.

CHESTER Jets' point guard John Thomas has proved to be one of the most explosive and entertaining players in the British game this season.

He's helped the team to a record-breaking 10 consecutive victories and reach their first National Cup final.

And this month, Mookie, as he is known by fans and team-mates alike, is preparing to spend his first Christmas overseas.

The 25-year-old native New Yorker had never left the USA before signing for the Jets and was originally wary of boarding his flight to Manchester at the start of the season.

Mookie embarked on his trans-atlantic crossing just days after the tragic events of September 11 and was not keen on making the trip so soon after the attack on his home city.

But convinced by club officials this was probably the safest ever time to fly, Mookie set off on his journey from the Big Apple to Ellesmere Port.

He is now settled at his home in Grace Road, Ellesmere Port, which he shares with team-mate Calvin Davis, and is delighted with his move to the UK.

He said: 'The people are great and everyone is really hospitable. I expected the English people to look at me as an American and see me as a stranger but they have taken me in and treated me as one of theirs. Those who don't know me are never disrespectful and those who do always speak to me and ask how I am.

'People have shown me around and they always say that if I ever want to come to their house for dinner then I'm welcome.'

Mookie is also delighted with the way things have turned out on court and he has a great rapport with Jets coach Robbie Peers.

He said: 'When I spoke to Robbie on the phone before signing he told me how things were going to happen and how the team were going to play. You are often wary of this because coaches sweet talk you and tell you what you want to hear, but everything was exactly how Robbie told me it would be. He's always up front and honest.

'Robbie understands the game and lets you play it the way you want to and he only screams when you don't shoot the ball. Many coaches scream at you not to take quick shots but that doesn't always work. For example, in our game with Thames Valley I faked a shot and went to the basket and the ball went out of bounds.'

Mookie is also full of praise for his Jets team-mates and believes they can go all the way and capture the BBL Championship title this season.

He said: 'I've never been on a team like this in my life. There is no animosity between the players and everyone is unselfish. They look to pass before they shoot to see if someone else has a better opportunity to score. I've never won a championship before and I want to win it for our fans ­- they're terrific and they deserve it.'

'I remember our game with Leicester, it was probably the worst performance of my life, but the fans were still behind me and they really picked me up. For me there is more enjoyment playing outside the USA, it's like a long vacation. I come from New York City and a lot of things go on there like crime and it's good to get away from it.'

Mookie added: 'Also, I don't see much racism here. People have ideas of what things are like in America but they don't see the whole picture. Last year I played for a team called the Fargo Beez in North Dakota. We had five coaches and 40 players in just four months and I was the only player there from start to finish.

'We were always winning about half of our matches but the bosses wanted the team to be super and they were always changing the roster. That just made things worse and we'd have new players all the time who didn't know the plays.'

Mookie has adapted well to life in the UK and doesn't think it's too much of a change from back home.

He said: 'The good thing is that everyone speaks English. There are four other American players on the team and we all hang out together. Calvin Davis played in Iceland last season and it was different for him because nobody spoke English and there was only one other American player.

'I've got friends who have played overseas in Greece, France and Germany and they say they get a bit homesick, but I think it's mostly down to the language barrier and, fortunately, that's something I don't have to contend with here. I was homesick for a minute but I was soon fine.'

Mookie has noticed differences in the style of play in the UK and USA and he likes the fast pace of BBL basketball.

He said: 'It's always up-tempo and played at a high pace, which suits me fine. Up and down the court, that's the way I've always played. All of the players have got good all-round skills and most can play all over the court. A lot of people have commented on the physical treatment I receive from opponents but I get that everywhere.

'A lot of players look at my size (5ft 10in) and think that I'll roll over but I'm just the opposite. I've played on the streets of New York and they don't call fouls there! But I'm happy with the set-up and I'd love to stay out here and play.'

As Christmas approaches Mookie' thoughts turn to his family back home in New York.

He said: 'My three-year-old daughter Jaida is the one person I miss the most. I haven't had any visitors come over since I've been here because after the crashes in New York I did not want to be selfish and make anyone else go on a plane.

'On Christmas Day I'll probably call Jaida and tell her I love her and then speak to my parents too. I might have dinner with some of the other players and we'll make our own Christmas. We don't really have a Christmas break as there are so many big games at that time of year.'


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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