Building a rapport with her new players isn’t just part of being a coach, Christi Thomas said. It’s the most essential part.
“I’ll be honest, that’s the biggest part of being a coach,” the new Jackson County girls’ basketball coach said. “And it’s probably my favorite part is building genuine relationships with these kids for them to understand that I have their back.
“But I’m not going to sugarcoat,” she added, “and I’m going to tell them truth and help them grow as young women.”
Thomas, who scored 789 points and pulled down 627 boards in a seven-year WNBA career, is getting a first look at her squad this summer. The GHSA has allowed activities to reconvene — with protocols in place – during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve just enjoyed learning their personalities and what makes them tick and helping them believe in themselves,” Thomas said. “Because these kids have been through it — four coaches in four years.”
Thomas, a former college basketball star at the University of Georgia, said she aims to instill a sense of continuity and confidence in a program that’s experienced so much turnover.
Former coach Monte McClure spent two seasons with the program (2017-18 and 2018-19) and was succeeded by Aaron Schuck, who coached the team for two games last season before abruptly resigning. Julie McCutcheon filled in as the interim coach, guiding the team to the state tournament last year. Thomas was hired as the program’s new coach in April.
“I’m just trying to help them understand that I’m here to stay and that they can trust me, and that I have their best interests — both as a person and basketball player — in mind,” Thomas said.
Thomas reports having “some really coachable kids” on her roster who are “ready for a change.” But she also points to needed areas of growth — skill development and basketball IQ — for that to happen. Thomas has devoted this time ball-handling drills, basketball concepts and instilling an understanding of “how to move when the ball is coming at them or away from them.”
“Just really understanding how to play the game,” Thomas said.
She said the team hasn’t gone over any offensive or defensive sets yet.
“We’re just strictly playing the game of basketball and learning the intricacies of that,” Thomas said.
Thomas is trying to navigate the summer as a new head coach under and altered schedule and restrictions from the GHSA for COVID-19. While those circumstances have been difficult, that’s not her focus.
“I’m just keeping the main thing the main thing, and we’re just working on basketball,” Thomas said. “Whatever God sees fit to happen over the next couple of months with our season and stuff, these girls will be prepared for it.”
Thomas said she still hasn’t seen all her players in the gym at the same time “so that makes things difficult, building stuff.” She wants to use this time to instill the team’s culture and expectations “so that when we hit the ground in the fall, then we can just implement and put stuff in versus getting to know each other.”
But she’s also happy for the time spent so far.
“We’re just really grateful to have it, and these are some special kids, and I’m just grateful to be able to work with them, and I look forward to many years with them,” Thomas said.