Willie Thomas arrived in Hopkins with the understanding that the folks who regularly fill Lower Richland’s Diamond Mine can be a tough crowd with high expectations for their basketball squads.
When he accepted the job of Diamond Hornets boys basketball coach in spring 2012, Thomas said he was confident that he could pilot the Lower Richland to success.
With the Class 3A playoffs beginning next week, Thomas believes the Diamond Hornets are on track.
“I look at where we were and where we are now and how much our kids have grown and I think we have done something positive with this group,” Thomas said.
His Diamond Hornets are 14-10, having won the Region 4-3A title despite dropping the final two regular season games.
“When it comes to wins and losses, I’m sure people would look at it and say that we haven’t been as successful, because we haven’t won as many games as Lower Richland is supposed to win.”
But Thomas knows that the kind of success Diamond Hornets fans like is within reach.
He hardly is a stranger to the championship level to which the Diamond Hornets aspire.
Three seasons ago, as Lower Richland was beginning its streak of three consecutive semifinal appearances, Thomas led Lake City to the Class 3A championship game. He was 63-52 in seven seasons there.
Before that — in 1988 and 1990 — Thomas won state championships with Bowman and his Holly Hill teams claimed three titles from 1995-99. Those five career titles match the five Lower Richland has earned in program history.
“I will never tell everybody I’m some great coach, but I do understand and respect the young people and I know what it’s going to take for them to be successful, and that if they do those things, we will eventually be successful on the court,” Thomas said.
He arrived offering no promises except increased disciplinary standards and more work, and he has held true to those. While the Diamond Hornets struggled early on — as Thomas benched more experienced players in favor of younger, hungrier athletes — they righted the ship in January.
“I think we’ve gotten them to realize that there’s plenty more out there that we can do. We can play five more games,” Thomas said. “Reality has set and they realize that it’s time to go to work, because it’s a one-game season.”