Thomas, who missed the first seven games of the 2000-01 campaign after suffering a stress fracture in his foot last November, re-injured it during the San Juan Shootout last week. Team doctors re-examined the injury when the Golden Flashes returned to Kent, and the diagnosis was far from favorable.
"He re-cracked it, and he's probably through for the season," said Kent State coach Gary Waters. "I don't think he'll be able to come back again this year, physically or mentally. He's a little down right now. He put a lot of work in last summer."
Thomas (Springfield North H.S.) averaged 6.6 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest while starting all 31 games for the Flashes in 1999-2000. The 6-foot-4 swingman came on strong toward the end of the year, scoring a career-high 18 points in Kent State's season-ending loss at Penn State in the NIT quarterfinals, and was named the team's Most Improved Player.
Thomas played just 12 minutes in two games in Puerto Rico before the foot pain returned.
"We were hoping to get him some playing time in Puerto Rico so he'd be ready for the (Mid-American Conference) season," said Waters. "Losing (Thomas) really hurts our depth."
True freshman Bryan Bedford has filled in for Thomas at the starting No. 3 slot, and is averaging 2.6 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. But the players most impacted by Thomas' loss are starting guards Andrew Mitchell and Trevor Huffman and key reserve Demetric Shaw, who will be forced to log major minutes the rest of the year.
"Now I have to try to find ways to keep our guys fresh again, and that's tough," said Waters. "But our guys have gotten used to playing without (Thomas). To them it's not a big issue. They all know they have to help pick up the slack without ET."
Thomas will almost assuredly receive a medical redshirt from the NCAA, and would therefore be eligible to play two more seasons at Kent State.
"Eric will graduate this spring, so I don't know if he'll want to stay in school for two more years," said Waters. "But we definitely expect to have him back next year."
The Flashes (7-3) will battle Xavier (8-2) at Gund Arena Saturday night before opening MAC play Wednesday against Eastern Michigan.