BANGOR, Maine — When Tristan Thomas graduated from Bangor High School last spring, he knew he wanted to continue his basketball career, but where and at what level remained to be determined.
A year later, not only has the 6-foot-3-inch, 185-pound guard found the answer to both questions, he has also earned a full scholarship.
Thomas, who played this winter for the postgraduate team at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, will study and play basketball beginning next fall at Barton College, a top-level NCAA Division II program in Wilson, N.C.
“It’s a perfect fit for both parties,” said MCI coach Dave Campbell, “because Tristan wanted them and they wanted him. I think it’s a great thing for Barton because they’re getting a Division I kid at the Division II level.”
Thomas will travel to his college destination — in a community of approximately 50,000 about 45 minutes from the North Carolina state capital of Raleigh — next week to sign his NCAA National Letter of Intent.
“It’s a really nice town, a good-sized town with nice people and good southern food,” said Thomas, who previously made a formal visit to the Barton College campus several weeks ago.
Barton also is in the midst of a successful basketball run under 16-year head coach Ron Lievense. The Bulldogs were the 2007 Division II national champions and qualified for the NCAA tournament in 1997, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2012, when they suffered a 96-87 first-round loss to Montevallo (Ala.) — the eventual national runner-up.
Barton finished the 2011-12 season with a 20-10 record.
Thomas also visited another North Carolina Division II school, Chowan University, as well as New England Division II programs Bentley and St. Michael’s and several Division III colleges before selecting Barton.
“One thing I liked about Barton was when I was watching them practice and it looked to me like they were going 100 percent, the coach stopped them and told them that this kind of work ethic doesn’t win championships, so he had them go to the end line and start running.
“He demanded that kind of worth ethic, but before practice he was much more casual with the guys, it looked like he really liked them and they really liked him.”
Thomas’ own work ethic, as well as his skills as a defender and long-range shooter, were among the traits that appealed to Barton, according to Campbell.
“Tristan brought a work ethic to MCI that was second to none, he’s probably the hardest worker I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Campbell said. “And that really helped him to understand how he had to play against the better talent he faced this year. He was able to adjust because he never stopped working.”
Thomas went to MCI after earning Bangor Daily News third-team All-Maine recognition for his role in helping Bangor High School win the 2011 Class A state championship.
He served as a team captain for the postgraduates this winter, and his on-court performance was highlighted by a 28-point outburst against Notre Dame Prep of Fitchburg, Mass.
Thomas plans to major in exercise sciences at Barton, with the goal of eventually becoming a college strength and conditioning coach.
And while Wilson, N.C. is a long way from Bangor, Maine, he is looking forward to life away from home.
“I kind of wanted to get out of New England to get away from the snow,” Thomas said. “And going to MCI this year was definitely a good learning experience because I wasn’t that far away but I was far enough away from home to be living on my own and with a different bunch of guys.”
Before opting to attend Barton, Thomas also flirted briefly with Division I Boston College, which offered him a chance to walk onto its roster with the possibility of earning a scholarship later in his career.
“You think about playing in the ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference], the best conference in the country, and all the bells and whistles that go with it,” he said. “But ultimately it came down to the financial situation. Rather than having a six-figure debt coming out of college, I’m going to play basketball at a great school in a great city on a scholarship.”