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Gary basketball legend Renaldo Thomas dies
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BASKETBALL

Gary basketball legend Renaldo Thomas dies

From the 5 stories to know from the weekend series

GARY — Renaldo Thomas, who played on a basketball state runner-up team at Roosevelt and led Lew Wallace to a state title game as a coach, has died.

Thomas suffered from complications from diabetes, according to former Gary city athletic director and Lew Wallace coach Earl Smith Jr. Social media reports said Thomas died on Wednesday.

"No question, he was by far one of the top players during his time," Smith said of Thomas. "He established himself as one of the premier players in the Region.

"I coached against him. It was always a challenge trying to stop him."

Thomas scored a team-high 19 points in Roosevelt's 75-74 loss to future NBA player and coach Scott Skiles and Plymouth in the 1982 state championship game. Among Thomas' teammates was future NBA player Winston Garland, whose son, Darius, currently plays for the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers.

Thomas went on to play for the famed Phi Slama Jama teams at the University of Houston, ranking among the Southwest Conference leaders in assists as a senior in 1985-86. The Cougars, led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, were national runners-up in Thomas' first two seasons.

Thomas returned to Gary and served as head coach at both Lew Wallace, leading the Hornets to the Class 3A title game in 2010, and Roosevelt.

Branden Dawson, a McDonald's All-American at Wallace who went on to play for Michigan State and later in several pro leagues, called Thomas "pound for pound one of the best coaches I've ever played for" in an Instagram post. "We had our ups & downs but most importantly, you showed me how to be a man, you were my mentor, you brought out that dawg in me ... "

In a Twitter post, Gary Mayor Jerome Prince offered condolences to Thomas' "family, friends, teammates and the many young men he's coached over the years."

Using Thomas' nickname, Prince added, "Nadi was more than a legendary basketball player, he was a leader, role model and true cheerleaders for the City of Gary."

Prince noted he graduated from Lew Wallace in 1982, the same year Thomas led Roosevelt to the state finals. "While we attended different schools, I have fond memories of 'Captain Sky,' even if his team demolished my (eighth-grade basketball team) in one particularly brutal game," Prince wrote. "I think Nadi scored like 60 points on our squad."

Smith recalled Thomas' competitive spirit shining through at the B/C Camp held in Rensselaer. "His first day at camp, he wanted to know who the best players were," Smith said. "Once he found out who they were, he went up and said, 'I want you. I want to find out just how good you really are.'"

Smith said Thomas appreciated the generation of coaches who came before him, including Roosevelt's Ron Heflin, West Side's Ike Brown and Smith. "He called upon us for advice," Smith said.

Prince said Thomas' larger-than-life personality won't be forgotten.

"Like so many people, I'll miss Nadi and his outspoken style, but the City of Gary is a better place because of his contributions," Prince wrote.

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