All right Dons Fans! Your Freshmen Team Reporter Drew here with Head Coach Eric Thomas. Appreciate you sitting down with me Coach, and hopefully this won’t be too hot of a seat for you. Q&A format so I’ll jump into some questions here.
Q: First, I’m interested in hearing more about your personal story. How did you end up here as the Coach of the Freshmen Team?
A: I was Acalanes, Class of 2013. I played here all four years, I was the team captain my senior year and ended up playing one year at San Francisco State, then graduated a degree in Marketing. I ended up back here because I’ve always wanted to coach. I coached the Lafayette Summer League, fifth graders, fourth graders, all that kind of stuff. And then one day, right after the 2018 Alumni Game, Coach Huber was saying that they have an opening for the Freshmen Team. And I told him I had been wanting to get back into it so he hooked me up with Sol Henik, who was the program director at the time, and they just kind of fast tracked me into the position where I’ve been here for the last three years.
Q: And so what is your day job?
A: Yeah, so I work. I’m an Account Manager for a small recruiting firm that operates out of Walnut Creek.
Q: What would you say that your overall coaching philosophy is?
A: Well at the Freshman level, the wins and losses are technically secondary. We’re going to try to win games but the number one philosophy is we’re trying to just give them a solid foundation of fundamental skills to help them advance through the program and ultimately create Varsity basketball players.
Q: We’re starting league play this week with the team sitting at 4-4 right now. You’ve had a lot of challenges to overcome in the early season, starting with the last minute departure of Coach Sol, then with all the COVID outbreaks and absences, and then the Holidays so I feel for you guys. I think it’s been hard to put a lot of chemistry together and to generate momentum but you guys have battled and you’re at .500. What are your thoughts headed into league play?
A: Like you said, there’s been a ton of obstacles, coming into league play we’re at 4-4, it could be worse, but at the same time, I think it’s not quite the start we all had anticipated. There were definitely a couple games that we lost we probably shouldn’t have. Going into the into league, the thoughts are definitely it’s still a tough road ahead. We’re in a really competitive league this year. It’s always been like that. That’s why we scheduled a little bit more of a tougher non league schedule, just to kind of warm us up. We played Amador, which is a D-1 school. Dougherty Valley’s a D-1 school and we went to their Holiday tournament. We’ve been trying to, as best we can, prepare the boys for the grind that is league because you know, we have Campo who’s always fantastic. We have Clayton Valley Charter that is always good. College Park is always good. Because of the COVID outbreak and a lot of guys have been on vacation, we haven’t really had the full team here in over a month so we were a little bit behind where we want to be but hopefully we’re gonna put it all together.
Q: What would you say the strengths of this team are at the moment and what are some things that you guys are trying to work on?
A: The biggest strength is and what we’ve been working on is controlling the “controllables” as the Varsity Head Coach Bill Powers always says. So the things we can control is always our effort and energy. I would say our biggest strength is always our energy. It doesn’t matter if we beat Irvington by six or lose to Amador by 40, every possession we’re getting tons of energy from the bench, always picking our teammates up making sure that we all have something to play for. And outside of that, we’re a really cohesive group coming out of the Holiday tournament. So playing for each other and just our general team culture is, I think, our biggest strength and that goes a long way towards getting us through the tough stretches in and out of games. We create a lot of offense and momentum through our energy.
Q: I was at the meeting where Coach Powers introduced himself and I was really impressed by what he had to say. He talked about doing some things I thought were pretty neat like getting the players to journal, having the Varsity mentors, etc.. Have you guys been able to roll that stuff out?
A: We tried, specifically for the mentors. It was right around early December where we had the mentor meeting scheduled and the next day the program shut down temporarily. So we have the mentors and mentees all matched up but I don’t think they’ve been introduced quite yet. Once things kind of calm down a little bit, we have some positives to roll out in the program. So once we get the opportunity when the whole program is there, it’s gonna happen.
Q: I’ve coached a lot too. I I know it’s a lot to handle – you’re a one man showband doing a killer job so far. Have you given any thought to maybe adding an assistant to help with practices or games?
A: I’m talking to people multiple days a week trying to get someone on with me, it’s just been tough. All my friends are around my same age so we’re all working day jobs. A lot of them don’t want to be out five days a week until 9:00. So it’s been hard to get people to commit especially at this point of the season when it’s really in full swing. There’s also the issue, if someone ever is willing, then there’s going to be other stuff it’s going to take to get them cleared – TB, CPR, etc. So I’m trying and I’m pretty confident that for the end of the season I’ll have somebody with me, but for now it’s still it’s in limbo.
Q: Is it a volunteer or paid position?
A: Assistant positions are always volunteer.
Q: I heard a rumor that perhaps the practice times are getting adjusted, is there any update on that?
A: We’re always trying to look for any opportunity that we can get the boys in a little bit earlier. I can’t make any promises if anything is going to be set as far as a consistent practice schedule, but we are doing the best we can to get the boys home a little bit earlier during during the school week.
Q: One thing that I’ve noticed that I think is really unique about this school is how many underclassmen are playing up. I think we had five or six Freshmen that are playing for JV and that there are very few Seniors on Varsity. Things feel very young overall, which is, you know, good and bad. For example, you would have a completely different team if all the Freshmen just played Freshmen ball and so on. Interested to hear your comments on this.
A: So there’s actually five Freshmen on JV and one on Varsity. There’s one Sophomore on Varsity and only two Seniors, the rest are Juniors. We definitely have the philosophy that if a boy’s skill level is advanced then we’re gonna challenge them, we’re gonna play them up. It does kind of get tough when you take what they consider the six best off the team. That in and of itself presents some challenges to the boys that remain on the Freshmen team but all the boys that I’ve been fortunate enough to keep have stepped up to the challenge which has been really good.
Q: Is there anything else the parents can do to help support you?
A: I’ve been getting tremendous support from the parents this season, I think more than I have in years past as far as the amount of parents that are taking on some sort of responsibility. So there’s not too much more really to ask, but the biggest thing is obviously the score book sign up. I know there is now a score book sign up which hopefully will help because I understand it’s less than ideal to be getting settled into watch a game and then have me or one of the boys come up and try to pluck you off the bleachers. So we’re trying to take a more proactive approach to that. So that’s really the only thing that that I would ask – everything else, you know, as far as carpooling, setting up, team bonding activity, etc. it’s been great.
Thank you Coach for graciously offering your time to sit down with me and share more about yourself and the program. Good luck this week and GO DONS!!!