AL HAMNIK: Struggling Roosevelt still not a complete story

2013-01-07T19:15:00Z 2013-01-09T20:50:21Z AL HAMNIK: Struggling Roosevelt still not a complete storyAl Hamnik Times Columnist
January 07, 2013 7:15 pm  • 

Renaldo Thomas hates losing like Jay Cutler hates interviews, maybe more.

This anomaly called Roosevelt basketball has region high school fans shaking their heads in disbelief.

I mean, 1-8 and a 28.2-point margin of defeat?

At first, many of the Panthers' scores strike you as misprints: 77-22, 80-38, 80-30, 90-48, 77-50.

Worse yet, Thomas is a Roosevelt alum, though most students today have no real knowledge of their school's athletic history.

They have no idea he was a member of the University of Houston's Phi Slama Jama from 1982 to 1984, played with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, and went to three Final Fours with that team.

My point is, Tom Thibodeau could be coaching Roosevelt and it wouldn't matter, if the kids didn't truly love the game and weren't willing to sacrifice.

Thomas says his team has no problem there.

"Nobody has to cry for me," he said. "My future is bright. My spirits are high."

You might think the unsettling nature of having their school taken over by an outside firm, EdisonLearning, and constant changes throughout the building have left its student-athletes confused and indifferent.

Wrong, says Thomas.

"Ain't had nobody quit," he said. "I had to get rid of a few but it hasn't been tough on me. I went through that before, at Wallace, when I was younger and inexperienced, and I went through that as an assistant at Roosevelt when we were 1-18. Then two years later, we had one of the better teams in the state."

Six consecutive losses at the moment won't have scouts beating down the gymnasium doors, but Thomas is preaching patience and believes one day they will come a knockin'.

"The guys who were here were castoffs from other programs," he said. "It's up to me to bring the team chemistry all together. I have a blueprint for success. If I didn't, then you might need a lifeboat."

Roosevelt's rich basketball history should not be forgotten: 24 sectional championships, 12 regionals, six semistates and state titles in 1968 and 1991, the latter with Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson.

Surprisingly, this is not shaping up to be the worst season in program history. The 1998-99 Panthers finished 1-18 after starting 0-14, and had a 21.6-point margin of defeat.

When Thomas got the job last summer, we debated the pros and cons of playing schools from outside the area; eight of his 19 games are against teams from Indianapolis, Chicago and South Bend.

He argued that the best competition prepares you for the postseason, which is true only if you can hold your own. At the moment, his team is over-matched.

"Everywhere I've been, I've been successful, and I will be here, too," he said.

As for losing by 28 points per game, Thomas thinks we're missing the most revealing stat.

"We play hard from beginning to the final buzzer," he said. "We've been down 37 and cut it to eight. We've got to learn to put a complete game together."

And the Panthers will, by sectionals, Thomas warned.

There's no better time.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at

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