For four seasons in the late 1990s, Billy Thomas played in front of thousands of fans at Allen Fieldhouse as a member of the Kansas University men’s basketball team.
Thursday night at Bishop Seabury Academy’s small high school gymnasium, the former KU standout coached in his college town for the first time, leading Kansas City (Mo.) Barstow to a 62-32 victory over the Seahawks.
Now in his third season with the Knights (3-5), Thomas received a warm welcome from the crowd during pregame introductions, which he greatly appreciated.
“I’ve got a big-time affinity for everything Lawrence,” Thomas said. “Ever since I got here in 1994, Lawrence has always been and will always be a special place for me.”
Accordingly, Thomas — his 269 three-pointers are second in KU history, behind Jeff Boschee’s 338 — said parts of his coaching style come from his time playing under former Jayhawks coach Roy Williams.
“Our mentality, our style of play, everything stems from that,” Thomas said.
But, the former Kansas guard pointed out, he uses a lot of things he learned from other coaches through the years, too. After all, there are some significant differences between the team he coaches and the ones Williams led.
“My high school team doesn’t have Paul Pierce or Raef LaFrentz,” Thomas said.
The Knights excelled in the half court against Seabury (0-5), moving the ball crisply to create open shots. Barstow made 28 of its 56 field goals and only had eight turnovers. Jeriah Horne (12 points), Cole Childers (11) and Alex Acuff (10) all reached double figures for the Knights, but Seabury freshman Caleb Owino (17) was the only player on his team to do so.
Though the Seahawks played their best basketball in the second quarter, when junior Joe Simpson knocked down two three-pointers, they trailed 37-21 at halftime, and the Knights put them away for good with an 18-2 third quarter.
Seabury coach Ashley Battles said he didn’t tell his team a local legend would be on the sideline for Barstow.
“We were more worried about the guys who we were gonna play than the coach,” Battles said of Thomas, with whom Battles has worked in the KC Run GMC AAU program. “I did tell them they could bank on, from a coaching standpoint, we’re gonna get out-coached tonight. He knows what he’s doing.”
Barstow made just three from behind the arc against Seabury. But that had more to do with Barstow’s ability to get to the paint against the Seahawks. Thomas still has a shooter’s mentality, even as a coach.
“I tell the guys, ‘If you’re wide open, shoot the basketball,’” he said.