Coach Dee brings passion and skills home

  • Coach “Dee” Darene Thomas and Nick Thomas critique the skills of young basketball players at a clinic held Saturday, March 25 at Blackville-Hilda High School. Both Coach Dee and Nick Thomas are Blackville natives.

The sound of intermittent whistles is the signal to youth to start moving.

Mostly middle-school age boys dressed in white T-shirts and black gym shorts listen for the next burst of sound, their minds and bodies running to the next station marked by an orange cone on the wooden basketball court. Between and at each station they are challenged to master their skill of running, bouncing a basketball, passing, maneuvering and shooting.

Also dressed in black is Darene Thomas who eyes each young athlete critically. She’s the one with the whistle. She’s also the one in charge.

Thomas isn’t new to a Blackville-Hilda High School basketball court. She still holds the record for the number of points in a single game – 67 points. When she was in high school between 1986 and 1988, the Hawks were undefeated in 89 straight games – three seasons and three state championships. She averaged over 37 points a game.

At Wingate University, Thomas was named an All-American three years in a row. She was the all-time male or female leading scorer with over 3,044 points.

She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Parks and Recreation from Wingate and is currently pursuing her Master of Education at the University of Phoenix.

After graduating from college, she traveled to Europe and played professional basketball in Italy, Greece, and Hungary for the next eight years. She saw the world and followed her passion.

Upon her return from Europe, she began working for the Gwinnett County (Ga.) School District as an educator and now mentors both students and coaches in a variety of sports.

That’s not all. “Coach Dee” established and operates FBA – Fundamental Basketball Academy to “teach athletes the proper fundamentals of basketball along with teaching them sportsmanship, team play, positive work ethics, and at the same time acquire new and lasting friendship,” according to her website.

But on Saturday, March 25, Coach Dee and her nephew Nick Thomas concentrated on the actions of 15 to 20 youngsters ages 7 and up. Over the course of two hours these kids evolved from shy individuals to confident basketball players.

For Jaylun Parker, 13, and Zaveion Nix, 14, it was a special opportunity.

“It’s a great experience,” said Parker while waiting his turn to shoot. “She’s helping us get better, like how she is breaking down the fundamentals for us.”

“She’s teaching us new stuff,” said Nix. “We’re having fun.”

It’s the same sort of tough coaching Dee received from her older brother, Willie Thomas. “He pushed me and made me work harder.”

Athletics has paved the way not only for Darene but also for most of her family. “There were 12 of us – 7 sisters and 5 brothers. I’m the second from the youngest,” said Dee, now 47. “Eight of us went to college and most played some sport – baseball, softball and basketball.”

The daughter of Ruby Mae Thomas and the late Willie Thomas of Blackville wanted to give back to her hometown and conducted the clinic for those youth who came to learn. “I was disappointed that we didn’t have more. I’m used to having 35 to 50 kids.”

But having a smaller group gave her the opportunity to be focused on the skills and needs of the participants.

And it’s more than just basketball.

“A lot of these kids have never been anywhere. I want them to know there are a lot of opportunities available to them. If you believe in yourself, any goal you want is reachable,” said Coach Dee.

With the passion and the right training, Dee sees a universe of stars in the form of young athletes.

She plans to be back in town in April for the “Taste of Blackville” and hopes to sponsor another clinic locally sometime in the future.

While Coach Dee has seen the world, “it’s always good to be home.”