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It’s Thomas time for Hawks hoop

For the past three years, Angelo Thomas has served as assistant boys’ basketball coach at Greenfield High School. This year, he will be coaching against it.

The tall, lean former Greenfield star has been hired as the Hopkins Academy coach, taking over for departed Tom Bell. Thomas was hired by athletic director Eric Sudnick after interviewing for the position last week. He said he is excited about the opportunity, and that the situation is perfect, given that he is going to a program he believes is completely behind him.

“They gave a very supportive administration,” he began. “They have a young athletic director that is full-boat hungry. They have a supportive principal, supportive community, supportive parents and a great booster club. And the kids are fully committed.”

Thomas takes over a team that has struggled in recent years, going 2-18 last season, 0-19 in 2011, and 3-17 in 2010. Hopkins has not qualified for the Western Massachusetts Basketball Tournament since 2003 (when it went 9-11 but finished second in the Hampshire League West), and has not had a winning season since 2001. But with a roster heavy on young, talented players, the Golden Hawks could be working toward ending both pathetic streaks.

“It’s perfect timing to come here,” Thomas said. “They’ve got a good nucleus of 10 kids I think are varsity material. I want to come here and instill the pride in this program that I know is there. In the winter, it’s just basketball at this school. And if you can help create a sense of pride around this team, younger kids will notice, which makes them hungry and makes them want to excel.”

He certainly knows a little something about helping to build a program from the youth level. The 1994 GHS graduate played two seasons at the University of Maine before finishing up his final two years at the University of New Haven. Thomas had a chance to play professionally in Italy following his graduation, but decided to remain on this side of the pond. He served as an assistant coach at Kolbe Cathedral High School in Bridgeport, Conn., for five years before returning to Greenfield in 2005. He said that in his 11 years away from the area he noticed something was missing from the basketball scene.

“It had definitely changed,” Thomas said. “The passion and commitment level were not what it was when I left. Once I moved back, Greenfield basketball was in my blood. I wanted to help get it back to where I knew it could be.”

What was missing was the consistency the late Jerry Donohue once demanded at the youth level and, over the past seven years, Thomas has helped bring that back. He began at the Greenfield YMCA, where he started youth and men’s leagues. At the same time, he and former GHS teammate Ross Burns started up DRIVE Hoops, which originally offered youth clinics. Thomas left the YMCA after one year and went to Indoor Action Sports, where he worked from 2007 through 2011. It was there that he really got the leagues rolling before leaving in 2011 to take all the basketball operations to DRIVE. Today, DRIVE Hoops offers leagues to players of all ages, youth clinics, and is in charge of Suburban League and AAU basketball teams.

All of that has led to a resurgence in the area, and it’s something that Thomas said means a lot to him.

“It’s gratifying to see these kids that I started with as fifth- and sixth-graders are now seniors and Greenfield is again a contender,” he explained. “But it’s always been a team thing. There are a lot of people involved, but I’d like to think that I helped out in that.”

Thomas also said that he believes that 2013 graduate Tyler Miller is the first GHS alum to make a college basketball team since Tim Burns played at George Mason nearly a decade ago. Miller will be a freshman on the Fitchburg State University men’s team this winter.

Coaching was not something Thomas was immediately drawn to. When he moved back to the area, he said he had no intentions of getting into coaching, but after serving as Greenfield Middle School boys’ coach for three years, then spending the past three as junior varsity coach at the high school level, it’s something that has drawn him in.

“I had no desire to coach,” he explained. “But once I got into coaching, it was such a good thing. Being part of a team is a fun thing. I was away from it, but I missed forming those relationships with players and with communities.”

He now gets that shot at Hopkins, and Greenfield High School coach Scott Thayer said he is happy for his former assistant.

“I’ve always considered Angelo a co-head coach,” Thayer said. “I know he’s aspired to have his own program and I’m happy he is getting his shot. He has brought a lot to our program the last few years.”

Thomas said he was grateful for the opportunity afforded him from Thayer, who he claimed allowed him to do things many other head coaches might not have.

“It was great working with Scott,” Thomas said. “He allowed me to do more than most would allow their JV coach to do. I was able to set up practices and install offenses and defenses. His ability to trust me and my decision-making is not easy for a head coach, but he was great to me.”

Thomas will continue to work at Greenfield Middle School and live in Greenfield with his wife Tiffany and 3-year-old son Grayson. DRIVE Hoops will also continue, and Thomas said he is excited at the prospect of it expanding to include even more players from WMass as he taps into the Northampton and Amherst markets.

The hardest thing will be the first game he coaches against his former players. Thomas admitted that he met with many of the players from his junior varsity team after they finished playing a game over the weekend, and he got emotional as he broke the news.

“It’s definitely going to be weird the first time we play Greenfield,” he concluded. “Before the game, there will probably be a lot of hugs. But once the game starts, they are going to want to beat me as much as I’m going to want to beat them. I told them that I’ll be rooting for them 18 times this year, but those two games when we play them, I’ll be rooting for us.”

Thayer has also named former GHS player Tim Caplice as the new junior varsity coach.

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