For the fifth straight summer, NBA player and Onalaska High School graduate Matt Thomas has taken a break from his pro basketball career to give back to his community.
Thomas hosted a pair of two-day basketball camps at Viterbo on Aug. 1 and 2 with a morning and afternoon session each day. With a few years of camps under his belt now, the former Hilltopper has honed his skills as a camp organizer.
“It’s always been pretty smooth. I’ve been to enough camps as a kid that I’ve had a layout, an idea of the way I wanted it to go” Thomas said. “I’ve also made some changes. The first couple years you figure out what works, what didn’t work, what could be better.”
When he was a kid, Thomas spent his summer going to basketball camps, and he credits that with instilling him with the passion and love for the game that drove him to pursue it as a career. Even back in those days, he says that he hoped that one day, he could host a camp of his own.
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Once he wrapped up his college career, Thomas knew exactly where he wanted to finally host that camp.
“A lot of people played a big role in the person I am now and it’s a small token of my appreciation to give back and hopefully inspire and impact some of these kids because I was in their shoes 15 years ago now,” Thomas said.
In fact, Thomas has been hosting camps so long that he says a parent showed him a photo of a knee-high camper from the first year that is now in high school and nearly as tall as Thomas himself.
It is the kids like that which keeps driving Thomas to come back each summer.
“As a kid, I didn’t have someone from my area that had played in the NBA or had an experience like mine to look up to,” Thomas said. “It’s to some degree an obligation of mine to be here, and I want to be here. That’s why we keep doing this.”
This past winter, Thomas wrapped up his third season in the NBA as he played 40 games for the playoff-qualifying Chicago Bulls. Chicago is his third organization after previous stints with Toronto and Utah.
While Thomas admits he would prefer to have a long tenure with a single squad, he spins his various stops into important learning experiences that help him round out his game.
“For me, every year is about trying to improve as a player, but also learning. I’ve been in different situations every single year,” Thomas said. “I think teams know what I bring to the table as a professional in terms of my game and my shooting ability… I know I’m willing and ready to continue to prove myself every year like I have been.”
With five years of playing basketball across Europe and various teams in the NBA, Thomas believes it has also given him a more unique perspective as he hosts his hometown camp.
“I’ve been a lot of different places, different cultures. Even the off-the-court things, I try to share what I can to help some of these guys,” Thomas said.
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Andrew Tucker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @andrewjtucker16