Lance Thomas spent Friday at an Upper East Side school talking to kids about doing the right thing and playing the right way. In a sense, the Knicks co-captain and Brooklyn native will be doing the same thing when training camp starts Sept. 24.
One of the integral roles for Thomas, the longest-tenured Knick and their defensive specialist, is teaching and grooming the two young draft studs — 18-year-old Kevin Knox and 20-year-old Mitchell Robinson — during this rebuilding.
Thomas already has a bond with Robinson, who works with his former New Orleans-based trainer, Marcell Scott. And in Knox, Thomas will take under his wing a player who lines up at his position.
Both are hybrid combo forwards.
The 6-foot-9 Knox dominated summer league in Las Vegas. Starting with the Knicks’ voluntary workouts after Labor Day, the former Kentucky star will look to dominate the 30-year-old Thomas.
“He’s going to have a steady diet of me this year,’’ Thomas said after running a basketball/life day for New Heights Youth, which helps kids from impoverished backgrounds. “If he can get around me easily, he should be able to get around most guys easily.”
When Thomas was with New Orleans, he worked with Scott. This week Scott, who is also Anthony Davis’ trainer, told The Post he hopes Thomas becomes Robinson’s mentor.
When the 7-foot Robinson, the Knicks’ second-round pick, dropped out of Western Kentucky, he trained daily with Scott with eyes on the NBA draft.
“That’s my guy,’’ Thomas said. “I know if [Robinson is] working out with Marcell, he’s going to be ready to play. He is one of the best trainers out there — under the radar because he’s not a social-media guy. He doesn’t care about that. He cares about developing guys.
“He hasn’t put out a player who hasn’t, one: been a dog and, two: been in the league for a short stint. Guys that work out with him usually hang around for a while.’’
Thomas said Knox and Robinson showed “grit and toughness’’ in Vegas.
“From what I‘ve seen from Mitchell, the kid is good — a freak athlete,’’ Thomas said. “He’s going to continue to learn the game. At the bare minimum, the kid knows how to work, because Marcell would’ve kicked him out of the gym.”
Thomas will compete with Knox for the starting small-forward position, though the lottery pick’s smashing Las Vegas performance makes it likely coach David Fizdale will go with youth.
After getting hired, Fizdale said he wanted to get Thomas to defend in the same class as a Draymond Green. Fizdale has spoken to Thomas about his role of creating a “defensive mindset.’’
“Draymond Green is a certified winner — to be compared to someone with that much success in his career, I’ll take the compliment,” Thomas said.
“I’ve defended 1 through 5 since I’ve been here,’’ said Thomas, who will make $7 million this season and has a partially guaranteed pact for 2019-20. “There’s not a place I’m not comfortable on the floor. I can guard the 1 through 4 and am comfortable with it. I got my hands full in this league. They’re getting younger, more athletic. Regardless, I welcome every challenge and made a living off that.’’
Indeed, Thomas will never be an All-Star, but nobody’s character is stronger than the Duke graduate’s.
As team leader, Thomas plans to have inspiring words for Knox and Robinson as he had for the kids during an off-the-court lecture. As the fifth- through eighth- graders gathered around Thomas at a small lunchroom table, he told them of his unlikely journey of 10-day contracts and not having a guaranteed deal to start a season until his fifth campaign.
Thomas was traded to the Knicks during the 2014-2015 season in a three-team deal with the Cavaliers and Thunder that also included J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.
“I’m going against guys a lot better than me,’’ Thomas said to the youngsters. “But New Yorkers have that extra grit and toughness.’’
Thomas doesn’t care about being a team captain. He just cares about being a heavy influence on the young players this season.
“My approach hasn’t changed since I put a Knicks uniform on,’’ Thomas said. “The title might have changed but a title doesn’t mean anything. When you’re in the gym with me and my teammates and you’re not working hard, you’re going to stand out like a sore thumb. That’s the environment I’ve been trying to set in New York. We’ve had some guys who really work hard. We haven’t had the seasons we wanted record-wise. That doesn’t mean guys aren’t getting better and learning to be professionals.
“When it turns around, it’s going to turn and be an amazing thing. Nothing like winning in New York. I’m going to make sure everyone’s on the same page and ready to turn this around because it needs to turn around sooner than later. Wearing a Knicks uniform means a lot more to me than probably anyone else on the roster.”
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