GARY | The noise was everywhere. Balls bouncing. Shoes squeaking. And the quiet mumble of basketball players trying to get in a long line for practice.
Renaldo Thomas stood in the middle of it all with a feeling like he'd just won the lottery.
"It's good to be home," said Thomas, conducting his first day of practice at Roosevelt, the school he led to the 1982 state championship game in Indianapolis.
Thomas was then on Houston's Phi Slama Jama team that reached the NCAA's Final Four in 1982, '83 and '84.
After a career in the CBA, Thomas returned to Roosevelt and was a volunteer assistant in 1991 when Glenn Robinson led the Panthers to the state championship under coach Ron Heflin.
Thomas then went to Lew Wallace and took the Hornets to the 2010 Class 3A state championship game, where Wallace lost in overtime to Washington.
"I was born to be a Panther," said Thomas, who had 60 student-athletes out for the team. "I always knew I would be a Panther."
When asked if he remembered his first tryout at the Midtown school, Thomas snapped, "Oct. 15, 1978."
"It was great to be coached by the legendary Ron Heflin and Ronald Broome," Thomas said. "I want to bring that Panther Pride back to Gary."
Thomas does not return to the same school he attended. The Pride of Gary has been taken over by EdisonLearning due to poor academic testing in recent years.
But Thomas said this is not a rebuilding project.
"It's a new beginning," he said. "We're going to work hard to get back to that original tradition. We are going to have good students and good citizens.
"We may not have the most talented team, but we will work hard, compete and play for the name on the front of the jersey."
Just like when Heflin ran the program, all basketball players had to compete in cross country. That hard work in the fall set the table for Monday's first day.
Junior LaParis Hodges and senior Denzell Walls led the team in its fall workouts in the open field.
"He works us hard," Hodges said of Thomas. "He's trying to get us right. He puts all of what he has into us. The running is all a work in progress."
"He's a good coach," Walls added. "He works us hard in the basic skills, the fundamentals. We'll get that down and go from there."
Thomas has four transfer students who should help, LaDontaz Tolbert (Lew Wallace), Jaron Lipscomb (Michigan City), Troy Lane (Atlanta) and Marlon Phillips (West Side).
Thomas also said he has one of the eighth grade groups in the area in his building. So he believes the future is bright.
"They're all good students, too," Thomas said. "We're working hard to get back to the true colors -- Black and Gold."