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Thomas joins high school Hall of Fame

Two decades had passed since a Harlan County team had made it to the Sweet Sixteen when Charles Thomas arrived at Harlan High School in the fall of 1990.

By the time he left in 1995, Thomas had rewritten the high school, county and 13th Region record books. Thomas was honored for his amazing career on Saturday in Elizabethtown as he was inducted into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame.

As a five-year starter, Thomas set the county record for points with 3,365 while leading Harlan to 13th Region titles in 1993 and 1995 and All “A” Classic state titles in 1994 and 1995. Thomas earned all-state honors as both a junior and senior and was named Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 1995. Thomas ranks seventh in scoring in state history.

Thomas went on to play for Clem Haskins at the University of Minnesota and was the sixth man on the Gophers’ Final Four team in 1997. He averaged 7.1 points a game off the bench and was an excellent free-throw shooter (.826 in his career). He was also a standout on the Harlan baseball team and was drafted by the New York Yankees. Thomas transferred to Eastern Kentucky University as a junior, but a back injury ended his playing career.

“What a tremendous honor to be selected into the basketball Hall of Fame,” said C.D. Morton, the superintendent of the Harlan Independent Schools. “Charles is very deserving and represented Harlan High School with class and honor. We are extremely proud of the legacy he helped build while at Harlan High School. It was an awesome experience to have a Kentucky Mr. Basketball player put on a Green Dragon uniform each season and dominate night in and night out. His accomplishments and contributions will never be forgotten and are a great source of pride for our entire community.”

“I was very fortunate to not only coach an outstanding player but also an outstanding young man. He was about winning and team first. He worked hard every day to make himself and the team better, which he did,” said Mike Jones, who led Harlan to three 13th Region titles in his eight years as coach from 1991 to 1999. “I know coaches around the state recognized not only his talent, his accomplishments, but also his unselfish play. This is a special honor that not many receive. He is very deserving of the Hall of Fame. I am very proud of him.

Thomas teammate in the backcourt for three seasons was Jones’ son, current Harlan County coach Michael Jones. He holds the state record for assists with 1,352, many coming on passes to Thomas, who usually converted.

“Charles was extremely athletic with a silky smooth jump shot,” Jones said. “The game came natural to him, but what was most impressive was his work ethic to always work hard to improve. Night in and night out, no matter where we were or who we played, we knew we had an advantage going in because we always had the the best player on the floor in Charles. It was an honor and privilege to play with him.”

“Charles was a gifted athlete who could have had a high level of success in any sport. He was surrounded by great coaches and a collection of phenomenal athletes,” Morton said. “Together, they were a recipe for disaster for opponents. On game day they made it look easy, but most people did not see the hours of work and dedication that went into making the magic happen. Coach Jones and coach (Kevin) Ball set some very high expectations and accepted nothing less. Charles and the rest of the team rose to the occasion every time.

“What made Charles such a great player was his ability to blend domination and unselfish play. Many players have an unhealthy need to be elevated among their opponents and even teammates, but Charles never made demands. He played to win and allowed the talents of teammates to work to the advantage of the team. Everyone was better because of his presence and his play.”

“Charles was the hardest worker I coached,” said Ball, who was the head coach at Harlan when Thomas was an eighth-grader and then became an assistant. “He led by example every day. He helped bring a lot of joy and recognition to his fans, teams and coaches while he played. It is good to see him get Mr. Basketball and this today for him and his family. It was well deserved.”

The Hall of Fame brought in a special keynote speaker for Friday’s event — Dwane Casey, a former standout player at both Union County High School and the University of Kentucky who now coaches the NBA’s Detroit Pistons.

Casey, a Morganfield native who has put together a successful coaching career and won the 2018 NBA Coach of the Year award, shared a heartfelt message with the crowd, involving both basketball and life in general.

Casey delivered his top fundamentals – character, discipline, attitude and passion – and his ‘Game of LIFE,’ which stands for love, influence, faith and evaluation and said that those things should be followed daily in any and every circumstance.

“I see so many faces in here, people that mean so much to me,” Casey said. “I want to thank everyone here and congratulate everyone here. You all have touched so many lives. This is about the Hall of Famers.”

Following Friday’s event, the Hall of Fame held its annual induction celebration for this year’s class on Saturday afternoon. After a red carpet introduction and a snack-and-mingle session, the inductees made their way from the gallery into the theatre to formally be inducted and cap a magical weekend.

The 2019 Hall of Fame class included: Steve Miller (player, Henry Clay), Scott Draud (player, Highlands), Charles Hurt (player, Shelby County), Sammy Moore (player, Louisville Central), Robin Harmon (player, Sheldon Clark), Irene Moore Strong (player, Breathitt County), Curtis Turley (coach, Henderson County), Nell Fookes (coach, Boone County), William Falls (coach, Hopkinsville), Charles Thomas (player, Harlan), Rick Jones (player, Scott County) and Doug Schloemer (player, Covington Holmes).

(The Elizabethtown News Enterprise contributed to this report)