Blast From The Past, Charles Thomas

This week is heritage week for the NBL so i thought i would touch base with one former NBL champion, Charles Thomas to see his thoughts & memories of his time in Australia.
Charles played four season in the NBL from 2001 – 2004, 2001 & 2002 with the Wollongong Hawks. 2003 & 2004 with the Adelaide 36ers. In 2001 helped the Wollongong Hawks win their first (and so far only) championship after they beat the Townsville Crocs 2 – 1.
Charles first year with the Hawks he averaged over 17ppg, 4.4rpg, 4apg and 1.7spg. But his best year stat wise would of been 2003 when he played for the Adelaide 36ers, that year he averaged 18ppg, 5.2rpg, 5.7apg and 2.1spg.

Since leaving Australia & retiring from basketball, he has picked up an assistant coaching job at the University of Akron. But he still has fond memories of his time with the Hawks saying – “I really enjoyed playing for the Hawks and it meant a lot and still does that I got to help bring an NBL championship to the Gong“. And he is remembered by a lot of Wollongong fans, when i get talking to Hawks fans at a home game i go to these days.. almost all of them bring up CT!

Q: When you were asked about coming to Australia in 2000, did you know anything about Australian basketball? League or players?

CT: I was asked in the summer (’99). Coach Joyce saw some game film on me from the previous summer and he followed me during the grand finals I was playing in when I was in Finland. I guess he liked what he saw! He was losing C.J. Bruton and decided to offer me a contract. I heard the NBL was a very good league and when I did some homework, I also knew of and played against some of the players..D-Mac, Darnell Mee and Ricky Grace to name a few, but the only thing I knew for certain about Oz was how beautiful the country was and how much I always wanted to visit there.

Q: Dmac & Mee were two of the best defenders of the NBL in the 90s & early 00s, which one of them would you say was tougher to score on?

CT: You’re right, they were both great defenders…on and off the ball! I truthfully can’t say it was easy to score on either one of them, but if I had to pick one I would have to say Darnell, but only because I scored more when I played vs Darnell’s team instead of D-Mac’s. Hopefully they would tell you they had it tough when they played against me too!

Q: What were your first thoughts when you arrived in Wollongong?

CT: My first thoughts were how it seemed like I was still in the states. I say this because when we arrived it looked and felt just like it did back home!  We got off the plane dressed in shorts and t-shirts, thinking like most Americans… it never gets cold in Australia. Boy were we in for a shock! It was only 15 degrees that day!!

Q: You helped the Hawks to the 2001 championship, was this your only professional championship?

CT: No, it wasn’t. Two years before that I was part of a Continental Basketball Association(CBA) championship team and I was also part of a team that won 3 championships in a league called the USBL. Both leagues no longer exist.

Q: Despite going a good 10 deep, the Hawks were largley under the radar that year, when you arrived did you feel the team could compete for the championship right away?

CT: Funny enough, yes I thought we had all the pieces to win it all. Most teams think that going into the season but I knew there was something special about that team.

Q: What is your favorite memory from that season?

CT: The whole season was very memorable, but I would have to say other than winning the 1st title ever in NSW history, it had to be like most people in the Gong, those 3 free throws that my man Damon ‘Papa Smurf” Lowery bounced it to put us thru to the Grand Final!

Q: Do you still stay in contact with any former team mates from your NBL years?

CT: I used to talk to Damon once a month and I have talked to Matty and Sav a few times years ago. I see Matt Garrison sometimes in the summer and I talk to Matt Shanahan from time to time. The other guys that are on facebook i’ve messaged a few times as well as coach Joyce. I miss them all, they were a great bunch of guys.

Q: I heard Matt Garrison was the worst person to share a room with when you were on the road.. Who would you say was the best & worst room mate during your time in Australia?

CT: I only got to room with Matt once, and it was cool. None of my roommates were bad while I was there. When I played for the Hawks, I roomed with all of the guys my first year and during my 2nd yr  I started off with Damon, but for most of the season I was with Shanahan. When I went to Adelaide I roomed with Dusty Rychart… he was great to room with. He was the quiet one and of course I did all of the talking! We were a great match on and off the court and like I said before we still stay in touch today.

Q:  Now that you’re an assistant coach at the University of Akron, do you ever tell any NBL stories to your players?

CT: Yes I do! I tell them about how great the basketball was and how I still hold the 3pt record and pts record in the Sand Pit (even though Mat almost broke my record)! But most of all I tell them about how much fun I had playing in the league in general. I always tell them if I didn’t live here, in the states, I would go back to Oz  in a second!

 Q:  Are you aware that Glen Saville AND Matty Campbell are still playing for the Hawks…

CT: Yes, I know they are both still playing there and I know that Sav left and came back and I also know how instrumental Matty was in keeping the Hawks in the league. That was great what he did for the team and for the city of Wollongong! Eventhough I left the country, i’ve always kept up with what’s been going on in and around the league.

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