Three days out of the womb, Chaz Thomas found himself in a gymnasium doing what babies do best – sleeping. He napped in his mother’s arms while his father coached a basketball game until a buzzer woke him, and like most babies, he cried and made a scene.
But Thomas quickly adapted to his noisy environment and never again cried when the buzzer sounded.
Until age 3, he sat courtside, even having a mini-hoop to play with during practice and halftime. It didn’t take long before he started imitating players.
“I had a player named Eric Fisher, who was one of the best three-point shooters in the country at the time, and he was left-handed,” Chaz’s father Charlie Thomas said. “Chaz came to me and said ‘Dad I want to shoot like Eric.’ I told him ‘You can’t shoot like Eric, you’re right-handed’ and he said ‘I’m going to shoot left-handed.’ So he switched to a left-handed shooter from a distance, which is incredible,” his father recalled.
For the rest of his life, Thomas chose to challenge himself. During high school he opted for a more competitive league when he transferred to Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, a school with notable alumni such as former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
High school was particularly tough for Thomas. His parents divorced. That alone was a challenge for him. He also lost two people, a coach who died of a heart attack and a friend whom he memorialized with a tattoo.
But in high school he also found success. Playing varsity all four years, he was named all-league first team as a junior and senior and all-county as a sophomore. His senior year, the team advanced to the Northern California finals.
After high school he had opportunities to go elsewhere but chose Cal Poly because he wanted to have an impact and stay close to his mother.
All grown up, at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, the senior guard has been dishing out more points with the help of his left-handed arsenal. Averaging 12.4 per game and shooting 35 percent from the outside, 43 percent from the floor and 73 from the line, along with 2.7 assist and 3 rebounds per game.
But being a coach’s son (his father was head coach of men’s basketball at San Francisco State from ’88 to ’05) leaves him susceptible to criticism.
“I want to see Chaz pump fake and drive to the basket more because it opens up the outside shooters,” his father said.
“He’s kind of an extreme guy,” Cal Poly head coach Kevin Bromley said. “He’ll take 18 shots one game, then take two shots. I want to find that medium ground where he’s showcasing his abilities. I want to see more consistency.”
On the other hand, Bromley also recognized that Thomas is criticized for trying to do too much. “He puts extra pressure on his shoulders to try to produce, without a doubt,” Bromley explained. “An outsider watching the game might construe that as being selfish. But really he’s probably the most unselfish young man. He’s really competitive and he’s got enough confidence to where he feels he has to make something happen in a good way to help the team. He’s not one of those ‘I’m trying to get my numbers’ guys.”
Senior forward Titus Shelton has been a teammate since the two came in on the same recruiting class and he knows what Thomas is capable of.
“Sometimes people might not see it all the time, but he brings a lot of emotion to the game and when it comes down clutch times, he’s made a lot of big shots for us this year,” Shelton said.
Thomas is not only recognized for his offense, his teammates also rely on him for leadership and guidance.
“He helps me a lot personally on defense. He tells me ‘stay here’ or if my man is coming back behind me. It’s very helpful,” sophomore guard Shawn Lewis said.
In fact, Thomas is having one of the best years of his college career. Some credit the improvement to the increase in playing time since the dismissal of senior guard Trae Clark, whom he shared a lot of playing time with in past years.
“Chaz is a rhythm player. If he’s in a game and gets in a rhythm, then he can really play,” his father said. “But if he goes in, plays for a couple minutes, comes out and plays again, he never gets into a rhythm. He needs time on the floor. Nothing against Trae and Bromley, but both (Thomas and Clark) would share a lot of playing time and it wasn’t good for either of them,” he added.
Clark was released after becoming academically ineligible early in the season. Thomas, junior Lorenzo Keeler and freshman Justin Brown have emerged as leaders at point-guard since then.
“A big piece of the puzzle was taken away from us and we’ve all stepped up,” Thomas said.
So when Clark departed, Thomas lost a teammate, but not a friend. Chaz and Clark were once cross-bay rivals in high school, Clark being from Newark Memorial High School in Newark. Both were in the same recruiting class at Cal Poly and became close friends.
In Thomas’ case, friends eventually become more than that. So when a UC Santa Barbara player insulted a teammate during a game last month, he took it personally.
“We’re all like family. I could have just stood around and did nothing, but I’m a different person,” Thomas said. “The dude said what he said; I disagreed with him so I pushed him.”
Those that know Thomas said he was just protecting a friend.
“Chaz is very loyal and he takes that to heart,” said his mother Chery. “In one sense, I was glad he showed that heart for his teammate. Not that I liked that he shoved the guy, but it shows Chaz is loyal. Unfortunately he got his temper from me.”
Bromley also saw that act as a sign of loyalty, but admits that Thomas’ actions did more harm to the team’s chances of winning.
“From a coach’s standpoint, part of me liked it. Because part of me likes the territorial thing, the feistiness, protecting your teammate; ‘No one comes into our house and does that.’ You need that competitive spirit to win,” he said. “But it needs to be directed in another way than pushing the seven-footer and getting ejected from the game.”
The Mustangs (7-19, 3-10 Big West Conference) need every arsenal they have on the court this season. Thomas, playing in his last week of college basketball said he regrets nothing and is still focused on helping the team improve.
Whether that happens, the recreation administration senior aspires to play professionally after Cal Poly, and “If that doesn’t work out, I’ll go from there,” Thomas said. “I’m ready to learn and start from the bottom.”
But his mother foresees coaching for her son. “He loves basketball and through working at basketball camps and seeing how much the kids love him, I can really see him following in his father’s footsteps.”