VALPARAISO | It was a day Matt Thomas has been looking forward to most of his adult life, the day he would take the court for his first official practice as a varsity head coach.
That day came Monday at Viking Gym for the former Valparaiso JV coach, who ascended to the lead chair after Joe Otis resigned to take over the girls program, but there was nothing special to commemorate the occasion. For Thomas, it was simply time to get to work.
"I don't feel sentimental, I feel like, let's do this," Thomas said. "I can't wait. I love to teach the game. I love practice. I love the daily progression, getting a little better each day. I'm ready to teach and not observe so much. The beauty of basketball is getting in that zone where you can set everything aside and all that matters is what's on the floor. I'm blessed to be able to do what I love, to look forward to my job."
With a roster largely devoid of experience, Thomas will get his chance to do plenty of teaching. Justin Osburn, last year's sixth man, is the only player who saw significant minutes last season. A gym rat as well, the Valpo senior knows something about spending countless hours on the court, a passion he shares with Thomas.
"I think he's going to be a great coach," said Osburn, who played for Thomas on the JV as a sophomore. "I like his fire. I like his energy. He's going to be intense. He expects a lot out of us. I think he'll bring out our best. It makes us all play hard. We all want to work. We all want to win, and will do whatever it takes. We understand where he's coming from."
At 39, Thomas isn't quite old enough to be old school, but that's long been his style. He's not in coaching to gain Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Not that he even does social media.
"When you step on the court, it's all business," he said. "They don't necessarily have to like me. They have to like each other and love playing for Valpo. I want them to leave here having had a great experience. Yeah, Thomas was OK, but playing for Valpo was great. If that's how they feel, then I've done my job."
Out of respect to his seniors, Thomas won't use his status as a new head coach or the team's youth as a crutch to call this a rebuilding season. In reality, the task might just suit him perfectly.
"The truth is, I don't know how good I'll be until we get into some big moments," he said. "It's going to be a lot of work, but I love it so much, it doesn't feel like work. I can go for hours and not get tired. One of my favorite parts of the game is having somebody who's not able to do something at the beginning of the season able to do it at the end, watching a group of eight, nine kids come together at the end of the year to become one, solid unit."