May 23, 2013

For Thomas, books come before hoops

By Devin Golden

— Brooke Thomas turned down athletic scholarship offers from NCAA Division I and Division II basketball programs because she wanted her college decision to be based primarily on education.

And that’s why the Dalton High School standout is going to Alabama’s Birmingham-Southern College.

Thomas celebrated her decision to attend Birmingham-Southern and play basketball for the Lady Panthers during a party with friends and family Wednesday at Dalton High. She received a full academic scholarship from the school, which cannot offer athletic scholarships as a Division III member of the NCAA.

The academic scholarship was enough for Thomas, who also received athletic offers from Division I programs Winthrop University (Rock Hill, S.C.) and Nashville’s Tennessee State University as well as from Division II schools Wingate (N.C.) University and Newberry (S.C.) College.

“Everyone was just as aggressive recruiting me, but in the last couple months I had to narrow it down,” Thomas said.

That involved “taking basketball out of the picture” to make her decision.

“I know going to Birmingham-Southern that as soon as I leave college, I can get an internship (right away),” she added, noting she plans to study business. “It might be less competitive than the Division I or Division II schools, but I know I’ll get a great degree from there.”

Before visiting Birmingham-Southern’s campus three months ago, Thomas was heavily considering Oglethorpe University, a Division III school in Atlanta. But her visit to Alabama changed everything.

“I guess it’s always the first impression,” Thomas said. “Everyone was friendly and they want me to succeed. The classrooms aren’t as big, so whenever I need a professor there is always help.”

Thomas was the Lady Catamounts’ starting point guard the past two seasons after serving as a substitute during her sophomore season, the year the Lady Cats reached the Class 3A state championship game. During the 2011-2012 season, Dalton won its sub-region but came a win shy of reaching the Class 3A state tournament. This past season, Thomas helped direct the Lady Cats to the Class 4A state tournament and earned honorable mention on The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Girls Basketball Team.

“Brooke’s strength is obviously her offensive skills,” Lady Cats coach Jeff McKinney said. “She can shoot the ball and has a very good talent of attacking the goal from 10-15 feet and taking it all the way to the goal.”

Thomas suffered a broken ankle during the summer between her junior and senior seasons, but didn’t let it keep her from contributing.

“When we started practicing, I’m not sure she was 100 percent at that time,” McKinney said. “But she wouldn’t sit out. She just wanted to play. That shows her character.

“She’s a great kid, a great student and has played basketball her entire life. She just enjoys playing.”

Thomas expects to compete right away for a contributing role at Birmingham-Southern, which finished 12-14 last season and will be in its first season under head coach Rena Holden, who was the top assistant the past eight years. The Lady Panthers compete in the Southern Athletic Association.

As Dalton’s point guard, Thomas averaged 12 points and two assists per game as a senior, and most of the offensive possessions started with the ball in Thomas’ hands and her giving orders.

“In order to win, I have to be in that role,” she said. “I have to direct and lead and worry about getting other people involved, even though you get the spotlight and if you lose, you may get the blame.”