SCHENECTADY — James Thomas has stepped down as the varsity girls' basketball coach at Schenectady High School after building what he believes is a launching pad for success.
Thomas coached for two seasons at the school he once helped lead to a state championship as a player, and though his youthful Patriots never challenged for any kind of title during that stretch, they did make progress in areas that are essential to do so.
"These young ladies got better mentally," Thomas said. "They became stronger mentally, and the more they play it's going to continue on. I can see it happening. They're going to put Schenectady back on the map."
Married with three children, the 38-year-old Thomas will soon be leaving Schenectady for Texas, where he excelled at the collegiate level and established many connections. As a star 6-foot-9 forward for the University at Texas, he collected over 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds and made an NCAA Final Four appearance.
Thomas’ NBA career afterward included time with the Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Bobcats, and he also played professional ball in Italy, Turkey, Israel, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela.
"A lot of avenues have opened up that I want to explore," Thomas said. "I am taking it step by step. Among the first things I am going to do is finish my degree [in youth and community studies]. I want to walk across that stage in May."
Thomas said his desire to coach basketball remains strong. Thomas’ coaching resume includes an assistant position with the Maine Red Claws (a Boston Celtics affiliate) of the NBA Development League after his playing career ended in 2015.
"There are no hard feeling," Schenectady athletic director Steve Boynton said of Thomas' departure. "They started going in the right direction. They had some highlights."
Thomas said last year's team that included seven sophomores and three freshmen exhibited more grit and fight as the season progressed, and that showed in the final score of games. Early in the campaign if some things didn't go the Patriots way, they would often fold.
"I learned from some of the best -- Gary DiNola, Rick Barnes, Gregg Popovich," Thomas said. "If you're not built mentally, you're not built for this game. Going through what I went through and from where I came from, you've got to believe in yourself. It's something I stressed to my team, and it's taken hold."
Thomas said the girls have tasted success this summer playing with the AAU Capital District Lightning and in Schenectady YMCA Summer Basketball League.
"This is amazing. They got the No. 1 seed for the [YMCA league] playoffs," Thomas said. "They're working hard and they want to learn. They're starting to change the culture. It's coming along."
Schenectady’s last season of note was in 2008-09, when then-coach Carol Lupo guided the Patriots to their only Big 10 championship, a spot in the Section II semifinals and a 19-4 record. Schenectady won six games in Thomas' two seasons.
John Galarneau has also stepped down as Schenectady's girls' basketball varsity assistant and will be taking an administrative position at Mont Pleasant Middle School.
"I was born and raised here and have that connection with the girls," Thomas said. "I think it's important to bring someone in who can relate to them both on the court and off the court."