EMU Men’s Assistant Baskteball Coach, fighting to put EMU back on top.
by Jason Idalski
It’s about 10 minutes before the Eastern Michigan men’s basketball team tips off against Northern Illinois. A tall, smartly dressed man takes long strides across the Convocation Center court. As he reaches his destination, he smiles.
As he approaches the men broadcasting the game for WEMU, he extends his fist. After a couple fist bumps, he walks back across the court toward the locker room.
For assistant coach Carl Thomas, it’s a ritual. Coaches are notoriously superstitious “creatures of habit“ (as Thomas put it), and, before a game in his first season, he “dapped up” then-radio man Brian Nemerovski. The Eagles won that night, and Nemerovski joked that it was because of their pregame gesture. Though Thomas said that EMU lost the next time he did it, it’s been a pregame staple ever since.
EMU Basketball is in Thomas’ family. In fact, both Carl and his twin brother, Charles (who is now coaching at Akron), played for the then-Hurons. The two were responsible for some of the brightest moments in EMU basketball history. Eastern made the NCAA Tournament in 1988, the Thomases’ freshman year, and made the Sweet 16 in 1991, their senior year.
“We always talk about, even to this day, how we came in on top and we left on top,” Carl Thomas said.
In that Sweet 16 game against North Carolina, Thomas tells a story of how facing off against twins could confound opposing coaches and players. Rick Fox, who went on to play in the NBA, said that when he got back in transition, that he had to train himself to look at the players’ numbers. Otherwise, he wouldn’t know which twin he had to cover.
Carl Thomas is entering his sixth season as assistant coach at Eastern, having been head coach Charles Ramsey’s right-hand man since Ramsey took the job in 2005. Ramsey and Thomas are longtime family friends, and, a couple years before the job was open, with EMU struggling under Jim Boone, Ramsey had his eye on the position.
Seeing Thomas’ parents at a wedding, he told them, according to Thomas: “If I get this job in a couple years, I’m going to hire one of the twins.” A couple years later, Ramsey did get the job, and one of his first phone calls was to Carl Thomas.
“He called me when he got the job and said, ‘I got the job—you’re talking to your new boss,’” Thomas said.
Thomas’ playing career took him to many locations, playing in the CBA for Fort Wayne and Grand Rapids, and being called up to the NBA five times for stints in Sacramento, Cleveland, Golden State and Orlando. After that, he played overseas in France, Sweden, Greece and Italy before becoming a coach. Now he’s home again, trying to lift EMU to heights not seen since he was a player.
“I’m an Eastern Michigan guy through and through. I love being back home,” Thomas said. “I would do anything it takes to have my […] school get back on top.”