TRION, Ga. - In a way, Isaac Thomas had little choice when it came to being competitive. The youngest of four boys raised by basketball-playing parents, the Trion High School senior had to either compete or forever be the runt of the litter.
Now an imposing 6-foot-6 with long arms and above-average athletic ability, the youngest Thomas has more than held his own. Playing for his father, Lanny Thomas, Isaac soon will wrap up one of the most noteworthy careers in the long history of the Bulldogs, and a large part of his success, according to his coach/father, can be summed up in one word.
"He's driven," Coach Thomas said. "He wants to be the best he can be on the court, and he has a huge desire to win. I've coached a long time, and what you obviously notice about Isaac first is his size and athleticism, but when you add the drive you get something special."
Isaac has helped lead the Bulldogs to a 17-2 start and a No. 3 ranking in the GHSA Class A public school rating system with averages of 14.4 points and an area-best 13.2 rebounds. He recently surpassed 500 career rebounds and will end his career as the school's all-time leading rebounder.
What sets him apart on the field is his all-around game. Having started his prep career as a point guard, Thomas can both create his own shot and help set up others. He's even used often as the team's press-breaker.
"Handling the ball is just something that I'm comfortable with, and when teams try to pressure us it surprises them to see me bring it up," he said. "Whatever I can do to help the team win, that's the big thing."
Both father and son say there is no awkwardness in their roles and that each has learned to leave any on-court differences outside the house. Each also says there is no jealousy within the Bulldogs toward their best player.
"We leave things at practice or at the game, and I don't critique him at home," Lanny Thomas said. "On the court I try to treat him like the other players, and I think they see that. Isaac is the third of my sons to play for me, and I've handled each one differently. I guess he learned from his brothers the right way and wrong way to handle things, because we rarely have issues."
Lanny Thomas points to two recent events that show how close his team is. The first came upon the death of one player's grandfather, who was very popular with the players. The Bulldogs went together for the viewing and were able to share the emotional event. The other came when Isaac was honored for getting his 500th rebound.
"We presented him with a game ball, and when the ceremony was over all the players surrounded him and celebrated," Lanny Thomas said. "It was a great show of love and very genuine. We're 17-2 for a lot of reasons, but it's the closeness that means the most."
The Bulldogs need just one more win to clinch the top playoff seed from their half of Region 6-A, a league made up mostly of private schools such as Saint Francis, Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, Mount Paran and Darlington. The upcoming region tournament will be a nice primer before Trion branches off to compete against public schools in the postseason.
"Personally, I think it will be easier to win the state than it would our region because of all the private schools," Isaac said. "Playing those teams hopefully will get us prepared for the state. There's no reason we shouldn't do well."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.