Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

Thomas excited to dive right into his new ‘dream job’

Former University of Hawai’i men’s basketball standout Mike Thomas admits that as recently as a month ago, he never put much thought into becoming a full-time college coach. But since being hired earlier this week as the Warriors’ newest assistant, he can barely think of doing anything else.

“It means the world, man, Hawai’i is one of the most special places in the world, and to be an assistant coach and carry the ‘H’ again …” Thomas said during his introductory Zoom press conference Monday afternoon. “I was talking to the (players) as I was getting presented to them, saying it brings me to tears to walk into that (basketball) office and understand that this is like, you know, my place, my place to grow not just myself but everybody around me. That’s what it’s all about, especially here, it’s all about community, man. And so I’m excited about every obstacle and every opportunity that it brings … It’s a dream job.”

Thomas, 26, completed his UH career in 2018 after serving as team co-captain for three years and having participated in a school-record 87 victories over four seasons. He also graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing.

“We’re ecstatic to welcome Mike back into our ‘ohana,” Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot said in a school statement released Monday afternoon.  “He has been a true difference maker in our program and embodied everything you could ask for in a student-athlete. His tremendous work ethic, character, intelligence and knowledge of the game combined with a clear passion for the program, university and community will be a huge boost to us moving forward.  Mike’s leadership qualities are as good as they get. He has always had a special ability to relate and connect with others, qualities that will make him such a great mentor within our program.”

According to the school press release, Thomas has served as a performance trainer at Athletic Gaines, a training center for athletes in Los Angeles, for the past two-plus years. During that time, he assisted numerous NBA players through their off-season workouts and also led Athletic Gaines’ NBA combine training, helping several prospects advance to the NBA and other professional leagues overseas. He also served as an assistant basketball coach at Harvard Westlake High School in Studio City, Calif., and a performance trainer for the Calabasas High School football team.

In his new role at UH, Thomas will fill the vacancy left by Jabari Trotter, who returned to his alma mater, Dartmouth, for an assistant job there. Thomas will work with the frontcourt players, while also being heavily involved in recruiting, player development and the team’s strength program.

“As someone who cares unconditionally about this program and it’s followers, I’m honored and ecstatic about joining the staff and helping us become a greater team,” said Thomas, who is from Woodland Hills, Calif. and prepped at that town’s El Camino Real High School. “The goal is to mold great young men into champions, both in life and on the court. I’m incredibly grateful for Coach Ganot and our current players for entrusting me in this new role and I’m unbelievably appreciative of the athletic department and the people of the islands for welcoming me back home.”

Despite his leadership role as Hawai’i co-captain in three different seasons, Thomas admitted he never planned to someday enter the college coaching ranks during his playing days in Manoa.

“Never, I don’t know why mind never thought to becoming a coach, or think in that manner,” Thomas said. “I always thought, ‘What could be better for the team, whatever I need (to do) for me and my teammates to be better players and people.’ But coaching was never a thought at the end of the day. Even getting to this point, before it presented itself to me, it was never a thought process … I never even thought about being a (college) coach or considered it.
“But once it got brought into the picture, it’s a dream job.”

According to Thomas, the opportunity appeared and then materialized quickly.

“I applied two or three weekends ago, and the process was very fast from there,” Thomas said. “I definitely had a conversation with Coach (Ganot), just explaining interest level, how serious the position is, going about it that way. But from there it was all just following the steps of regular applying to any state job, in my opinion, when it came to onboarding and all that different stuff. But really there was just a love for the team, the game, the program and this island that went into the decision-making to go forward.”

“As far as career, I plotted something similar to this 10 years down the road, and I’m just grateful to be here right now, man. It’s unbelievable, really.”

Thomas said the fact that the offer came from his alma mater made his decision rather easy.
“1,000 percent — I told Ganot if Kentucky offered me the job, I wouldn’t take it,” Thomas said. “It’s Hawai’i, I care about being here.”

Despite the quick turn of events, Thomas said he is ready to jump right in as the program is in full recruiting mode while also conducting summer workouts.

“It’s been a whirlwind, but I think I’m ready for every opportunity,” Thomas said. “I just passed my recruiting exam earlier and I get to go on the road this weekend and start looking at some guys and how we can make the team stronger and keep building. Being in the middle of everything, you have to be in the moment and as much as you have to see everything in the future and plan everything out and make sure everybody back home is being taken care of. But it’s been a process, and I’m appreciative of all the people around me, being able to fill in the gaps where I’ve slipped a little bit, especially with this move and even with the staff taking care of me even before I landed, before it was even a concept.”

Thomas said he is eager to learn the intricacies of college recruiting and can draw from his own experience in being courted to UH as a player.

“The biggest thing was ‘fit,’ and understanding that,” Thomas said. “If you can encourage guys and see where they fit into the process. Everybody wants to be a star and work to become that, but you have to start somewhere, and it has to make sense. So definitely understanding fit and the guys that we need. But also learning. When it comes to recruiting, there’s so many ins and outs and innuendos that I want to learn from (assistant coach John) Montgomery and Ganot going forward in this process.”

As far as his other role in developing current players, Thomas said his playing experience under Ganot and ability to relate to athletes as a recent graduate should serve him well.

“Just being able to relay, being a person who’s been there … and also within that point, being somebody who was in the same position as these guys (just) three years ago,” Thomas said. “Being able to relate that to them and understand that they’re not alone in their thinking, but there’s always a way we can improve and there’s always a way we can get better. And I think Ganot understood that with me, and my repertoire and a bit of a history of winning with this program, and I definitely want to bring that here to these guys. I think Ganot saw that skill set in me as a coach and also as a player and just what my personality brings to the table.”

Besides participating in the school-record 87 wins, Thomas also was a junior starter on the 2015-2016 team that earned Hawai’i its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory, over No. 4 seed Cal in Spokane, Wash.

Despite UH facing possible NCAA sanctions the following season (stemming from the previous staff) and other key players leaving the program, Thomas committed to returning and served as co-captain while redshirting due to a broken hand. He returned to action in 2017-18 and received all-Big West honorable mention as a senior after leading the team in scoring and rebounding. Thomas also received the team’s Art Woolaway Most Outstanding Player Award as well as the Riley Wallace Leadership Award, and still ranks fourth all-time on the school’s list of most games played with 116.

Speaking through a stack of leis following Senior Night festivities in 2018, Thomas said he had no regrets about returning to UH for his final season.

“Whether it be my coaches, my teammates or the people in the stands, I’m so proud and so grateful for everything I have here,” Thomas said. “And you can’t always get that … I’m very happy with my decision, I love this place.”
Ganot said Thomas’ choice of how to do his traditional “final dunk” during the postgame ceremony — a “tip drill” in which each teammate tipped the ball off the backboard in succession ending with younger brother Brandon tipping it for Mike Thomas to slam through the rim — was an example of his “team-first” attitude.

“(It) was reflective of Mike — he found a way to get everybody in there, that was creative,” Ganot said. “I just sat there and said, ‘This is so Mike.’ … We should all be so lucky to coach a Mike Thomas. He’s gone from what people thought he’d be a role player, into an all-conference (type) player and as good a captain as you could ever have.”
One of Thomas’ former teammates, Gibson Johnson, is now a Graduate Manager on Ganot’s staff.

“That guy is a competitor, and he’s one of my best friends,” Thomas said. “I’m ecstatic, Gib has taken care of me so much, in so many different ways, from when I was a player to this day. He let me stay at his house whenever I came back to the island, and stuff like that. There’s a real brotherhood and camaraderie there that you can’t match with anything, especially with teammates and people and things like that. We’ve grown really close over the years. So I am geeked, very very excited to be able to work with him and grow this program and get our guys better with him.”

Thomas said his approach to coaching will be similar to his approach as a player.

“You gotta be adaptable, you always have to respect your opponent, I think having a competitive nature that is not outlandish, but is dialed in, is the biggest thing,” Thomas said. “Every opportunity, everything that we face during the season, is going to be something brand new and you’ve got to push yourself in that moment. You can’t think about what is happening before or after, you have to be on top of that moment, and I definitely want to bring that. That’s the mindset that helped me win a lot of those games, being in winning situations and support teammates in winning situations. A lot of people understand, those 87 wins, my freshman year, I didn’t play that much. Even my sophomore year, I didn’t play much until the end of that season. It was a team effort, and whatever I gave, I gave the most of. So I’ll try to encourage our guys to do that.

“The practices, conditioning, the first time you get to see the fans during the Green and White scrimmage,” Thomas said. “It’s just special, man. We’re the only team in the league with an arena of this size … just being in the moment when it comes to all that stuff, too.”

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