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Jaywalking: Angelo Thomas returns home to coach Greenfield boys basketball team

  • After five years as coach at Hopkins, Angelo Thomas is returning to Greenfield to coach his hometown team. STAFF FILE/JERREY ROBERTS



Staff Writer
Monday, October 08, 2018

A recent phone call with Angelo Thomas included him singing the old Ozzy Osborne song, “Mama, I’m Coming Home.”

Indeed, the Greenfield High School graduate and recent Hopkins Academy boys basketball coach is coming back to the place his basketball career started. On Friday, the 43-year-old was officially hired as the new boys basketball coach for the Green Wave, replacing Tim Caplice, who spent the past four years as the Wave’s head coach.

“It feels great. It’s a great time to be in Greenfield right now. Academically, socially and sports-wise, it’s a great time to be in Greenfield,” Thomas said.

Thomas brings to the program a resume that has been littered with success since he began playing on the varsity team for the school as a freshman during the 1990-91 season, coincidentally around the same time the Osborne song was released. After serving as an assistant coach at Greenfield — three years as a middle school coach and three years as junior varsity coach — he left after the 2012-13 season (the same year Greenfield fell to South Hadley in the WMass Division 2 finals) to take the head coaching job at Hopkins Academy, his first varsity job.

In five years, Thomas took Hopkins from league doormat (the Golden Hawks went 3-17 in 2012-13) to become one of the most successful programs in western Mass. In his first year at Hopkins, the team went 12-8 and made it to the WMass quarterfinals, and since that time, the team has appeared in the WMass Division IV championship game for four consecutive years and counting. Beginning in the 2014-15 season, Hopkins won three straight WMass Division 4 titles, and last year the team made the WMass championship game before falling to Pioneer. In five years, Thomas compiled a 97-19 record at Hopkins and won a pair of Coach of the Year awards.

“The five years that I spent at Hopkins were five of the best years of my basketball journey, ever,” he said. “You can’t go through what we went through and not get chills, not get emotional, not smile, not cry. It’s a gamut of emotions. It was awesome. The relationships you develop, the hard work you put in and the lessons I learned, it’s what sports are all about.”

Thomas reached out to the athletic director and principal at Hopkins over the weekend and thanked both for the opportunity. Thomas believes the program is in good shape moving forward.

“Whoever the coach is coming there next, he will have some good pieces to work with,” he explained. “You want to leave the team better it was when you got there and I feel like I did that.”

The biggest reason for his decision to return to Greenfield was due to his family, which includes wife Tiffany and children Grayson, 8, and Savannah, nearly 4. Thomas lives in Greenfield and teaches physical education at Federal Street School in Greenfield and as his kids grow older, he said that traveling back-and-forth to Hadley every day for four months can be tough on his family.

“I would say being closer to my family was the biggest reason for me to come back,” he said. “During the four months of the season, I figured it out and it’s about 90 hours that I’m just driving back and forth. As my kids are getting older and are more involved in things, I don’t want to miss those things.”

Greenfield athletic director Mike Kuchieski said that Thomas has a lot to offer.

“He brings a lot to the table and with his background and being an educator in our school system, he should be able to help us out,” he said.

Thomas’s first year with the program will also mark the 25th anniversary since he helped lead the 1993-94 Green Wave basketball team to its first-ever appearance in the state finals. During his three years on varsity, Thomas and the Green Wave went to the WMass championship game every year, and in 1994 the team finally won a WMass title. The Wave went on to play in the state finals, where they lost to Duxbury. After that, Thomas earned a Division I scholarship to play at the University of Maine, where he spent two years before transferring to Division II New Haven. After graduation, he had a contract offered to him from a professional team in Italy, but turned it down.

It was then that he began his career in coaching, serving as an assistant coach at Kolbe Cathedral High School in Bridgeport, Conn. for five years before returning to live in his hometown in 2005. He immediately got involved in running youth leagues while working at the Greenfield YMCA, and also started up DRIVE Hoops with former GHS teammate Ross Burns. After one year at the YMCA, Thomas spent four years (2007 through 2011) working at Indoor Action Sports in Greenfield, where he continued to grow the sport. Thomas took all the basketball operations from IAS to DRIVE Hoops upon leaving in 2011, and he continues to run leagues and clinics today.

He said he wants to continue to grow the sport from the youth level up in Greenfield, just as it has been done at Pioneer and Frontier in particular. Former teammate Ross Burns and his brother Tim Burns — who each played Division I college hoop after graduating from GHS — currently work with professionals around the world and they have already been in touch with Thomas about doing a clinic in the area around the holidays.

“The stuff they will bring with them is the latest stuff you will see any basketball player doing,” Thomas said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Success starts at the youth level. As early as you can get these kids cohesive and going up through the ranks, that’s how it works.”

While he wants to grow the sport in the area, he believes the pieces are already in place at the high school to be successful.

“Success could be going 10-10, it could be finishing above .500,” he said. “There is a lot of pressure on me, because I put a lot of pressure on myself. This could be the start of something truly special.”

He has to wait less than two months to begin working with the team and during that time, the excitement is likely to turn to nervousness. But once he gets on the court with his new team, that will disappear and the joy of coaching his hometown program will officially set in.

“I’m super excited right now, but I think the nerves will come as we get closer to the season, that’s human nature,” he said. “With Greenfield being the hub of Franklin County, there is no reason that we can’t be successful, especially with all the good things going on at the high school right now.”

One man’s excitement can sometimes be another man’s despair. Such is the case with Caplice, who planned to return for a fifth season with the team.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed and saddened by the decision,” Caplice said. “It was out of my control. I have too many fond memories with the program both as a player and a coach to try and stand in the way of this. I was thinking about it today, and I’ve been involved in the program for a third of my life. It’s still a little surreal. I’m grateful for coach Kuchieski and Donna Woodcock to hire a 27-year-old five years ago, and (GHS principal) Karin Patenaude has shown incredible support.”

Every coaching job at the school is posted internally for two weeks and anyone working in the district can apply. Thomas works at Federal Street School, while Caplice works in the high school but is not a member of the teacher’s union.

Caplice took over following the departure of Scott Thayer, who spent 16 years coaching the Green Wave before leaving following the 2013-14 season. When Caplice came into the program, he was experience a lot of turnover on the roster (with seven graduated seniors) and his first season saw the team go 3-17. The next season saw Greenfield finish 9-11 and miss the tournament by one win, and each of the past two years produced 7-13 records, although this past season the Green Wave finished second in the HL North and qualified for the WMass Division 3 tournament.

“I’m happy with the work we did. There’s always things in this game that you wish you could have done differently. I definitely feel like I learned from every situation,” Caplice explained. “I couldn’t be more thankful to have been the leader of that program for four years. I hope they get the success they are capable of.”

Caplice said that he is going to miss his players, as well as preparing to coach against the many talented coaches in the Hampshire League. He said when he took the job he did not realize just how great the coaching in the league was, and how different all the coaches are in the styles that they play. Those things have the 32-year-old interested in continuing his coaching career at some point.

“I’m definitely going to coach again,” he concluded. “When the right opportunity presents itself, I hope to pounce on it. I want to stay involved in the high school game as much as possible, because it’s something I’m really passionate about.”

Here’s to him landing on his feet.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder Sports Editor. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com.