During his time as the Jackson College head men’s basketball coach, Carl Thomas developed a relationship with Heather Bateman and as the years passed and both switched roles, the playful, joking nature of the pair reuniting to begin the Cleary University Men’s Basketball program.
Bateman departed for Cleary as its athletic director and Thomas was a member of the Duquesne basketball staff as assistant to the head coach.
After pandemic-related delays and the mandatory two-year probation ending for joining a new conference, Bateman followed through on her promise, asking and then hiring Thomas to be Cleary’s first-ever men’s basketball coach.
“I appreciate it a lot,” Thomas said. “She trusted a lot to be that first person to be able to do it so the trust and faith she has in my, goes without saying how I feel about this opportunity. It’s exciting and scary at the same time to be honest, I have to recruit 12-15 kids and I want to build a program that can be sustainable. I’m sure there will be some anxious times, but this is a time to run my own program and use what I’ve learned my last five years with Duquesne and Coach (Keith) Dambrot and Coach (Charles) Ramsay who gave me my first opportunity.”
Thomas had several reasons for deciding to accept this new position, both personal and professional.
As a coach, Thomas understands that the goal is to try to get to the highest point possible and head coaching jobs in particular are hard to come by. Now he is able to set his own team and schedule.
Thomas also lives approximately 30 miles from campus and does not have to move. It is also noteworthy that his parents live a similar distance away and he has a four-year-old grandson.
There also is a knowledge of coaches in the Michigan area and Thomas listed several locations in the state that he can recruit from.
Of course, being the first men’s basketball coach in Cleary’s history also has him excited.
With that excitement came a difficult discussion with Dambrot about taking this position and the latter asked a simple question about the departure, if he thought he could win at Cleary.
When Thomas answered in the affirmative, Dambrot was understanding of the decision and thought Cleary was a good place for him.
Thomas explained that leaving Duquesne was hard for him and the opportunity Cleary provided was quite possibly the only one that would have had him depart the Bluff.
Though there was disappointment in losing Thomas and leaving a Duquesne staff that has been together longer than any other staff in the country, Dambrot gave his blessing.
“Carl is not only a terrific coach, but a wonderful person,” Dambrot said. “Having played in the NBA (1991-2003), he is really well respected and his ability to relate to the players is unmatched.”
The hardest departure was that of his brother, Charles who enters his 13th season as an assistant coach under Dambrot.
Charles simply stated to Carl, that if there was an opportunity to return home that it was important to take it.
The pair have been together for their entire life and lived together while assisting Dambrot and Duquesne as a whole.
“We got to see each other in a different light working every single day together and living together again,” Carl Thomas said. “We got to see each other grow in our adult lives and I’ll say it, I teared up a little leaving my brother, because I was happy being with him, it was tougher than I thought leaving him. He wished me well and put on his social media page that he was happy for me and will put me in touch with coaches he knows to help try and get players.”
Thomas had admitted that there has been no time to rest because he already has started an admissions job at Cleary, while he recruits and attends any open-gym opportunities he can before officially becoming the full-time basketball coach for the 2023-24 inaugural season.
The main thing he is focused on is the relationships building, something Dambrot has really helped him grow into a strength.
Thomas now returns to the Michigan area with a clear desire to be the best in everything he does and serving as a leader to young men at a different level, while also regularly being around family and friends.
“I’m turning 53 years old this year, so at my age, I don’t know how many years I have left in this business, so I’m going to relish every day and not take it for granted,” said Thomas.
With the Duquesne chapter of his coaching career now closed, Thomas took one final opportunity to express his gratitude towards everyone who helped him in the five years there.
“I developed family and friends and became really close to a lot of people in Pittsburgh,” he said. “Leaving some of those people is hard but I’ll hopefully have those friendships for the rest of my life. They have enriched me who I am as a person and as a coach. Thanks to everyone on the Bluff who supported me and were there for me. I really appreciate my time in Pittsburgh.”
Photo credit: Duquesne Athletics