Enjoy the Moment
Feb. 23, 2010
By Larry Watts
Whitney Thomas has not given much thought to the future. She is too busy focused on the present, which includes serving as a student assistant coach with Indiana’s women’s basketball team and wrapping up work on her master’s degree in applied sport science.
At 22-years-old, Thomas is in no rush and is enjoying the moment. After all, time is on her side.
“I’ve thought about playing (basketball) in a summer league overseas or the WNBA and possibly coaching at the college level,’’ she says. “Right now, I wouldn’t say yes and I wouldn’t say no to any of them.’’
Although her collegiate basketball career has ended and she received her bachelor’s degree in exercise science in 2009, Indiana’s Big Ten Medal of Honor winner wasn’t ready to end her Hoosier athletic career. She simply switched courts and took advantage of the NCAA’s rule to allow student-athletes to have a fifth year of eligibility to play one season in a different sport.
“I know (basketball) Coach (Felisha) Jack and (volleyball) Coach (Sherry) Dunbar talked it over and thought it would be a good idea if I gave it a try,’’ says the 6-foot Thomas, who was a standout in both sports at nearby Bloomington North High School. “I had been away from volleyball for four years, but Coach Dunbar had seven new players coming in and she thought my athletic experience would be valuable to the team.’’
As an outside hitter, Thomas participated in 28 of the Hoosiers’ 34 matches this past fall. She posted 94 kills and collected 29 blocks.
“The level of play in college was a lot different than high school,’’ says Thomas, who was recruited by Purdue to play volleyball. “I started working on my game again last summer, and my teammates were great and helped me a lot. I had thought about playing volleyball when I first came to Indiana and I really enjoyed this experience.’’
But basketball was her ticket to Indiana. Fortunately, former Hoosiers’ coach Kathi Bennett noticed Thomas during her freshman and sophomore years at Bloomington North High School. Thomas tore her ACL in her right knee during AAU Nationals and missed her entire junior season. Then, she tore her left ACL eight games into her senior year.
“I’m happy it happened then and not at Indiana,’’ Thomas says. “Thankfully, Coach Bennett had offered me (a scholarship) early and I had already committed by the time I tore the other ACL. It was frustrating and tough to go through that injury the first time, and then I had to do it all over again.’’
But before Thomas even arrived on campus, Bennett left Indiana and was replaced by Sharon Versyp. And after a 19-14 season, Versyp left for the same position at rival Purdue, her alma mater.
“It was tougher on the older players, knowing they would have to play for three different coaches in three years,’’ Thomas says. “To have a new coach for only one year is a little frustrating. Now they were going through their third different coaching philosophy and third different style of play, which made it kind of difficult.’’
But the Hoosiers didn’t seem to lose a beat under Felisha Legette-Jack. They duplicated their previous 19-14 season in her rookie year and followed with 18-15 and 21-11 campaigns, respectively. The Hoosiers’ program had finally found stability.
For her part, Thomas became the second player in Indiana history to score over 1,000 points (1,240), grab over 1,000 rebounds (1,090) and collect over 200 steals (237). Her 288 rebounds as a senior, when she averaged 11.8 points and 8.7 boards, ranks third in a single season for Indiana. She finished her career, second all-time in steals and rebounds, eighth in blocked shots (73) and 13th in scoring.
“The overall experience was great, and I enjoyed every minute of it,’’ says Thomas, who posted 32 double-doubles in her career. “It was interesting to play for two different coaches, who both had completely different styles. Coach Jack is a very passionate person who stresses off-the-court education in an effort to make us all stronger women. I’m glad I had a chance to be part of that.
“I think Coach Jack has enabled this program to take several small steps forward. We were always expected to finish last (in the Big Ten) and now we’ve moved up into the middle. Now we have to get over that hump and compete for first. Coach Jack has been building the foundation for us to do that, and everyone just has to buy into her passion and what she believes.’’
As a student assistant coach, Thomas finds herself back on the court mainly as a member of the scout team. On game day, she keeps stats and communicates with the other coaches, but don’t think there isn’t that itch to get back on the floor, especially during a Big Ten game.
“I definitely wish I was still playing and had the chance to compete,’’ she says. “But if you ask Coach Jack, I’m sure she feels the same way. It’s probably going to be that way for awhile.’’