Rising Above: The trials of a basketball player from Dayton who made his way to the EuroLeague

Pictured is Joe Thomasson playing for his previous team before being signed to Maccabi Tel Aviv. Photo courtesy of Dov Halickman.

Gabriel Ward | Contributing Writer

DAYTON, Ohio – As Joe Thomasson climbs up the ranks of European basketball, his rise from local athlete to international star was made possible by his high school head coach, Darnell Hoskins. Recalling Thomasson’s career, Hoskins, in a recent interview with this reporter, reflects on how Thomasson overcame challenges in the classroom to get to where he is today.

Thomasson is currently playing in what ESPN labels as the best basketball league in the world outside of the NBA, the EuroLeague, as well as the Israeli Basketball Premier League. He has been adjusting to his new team, scoring 7.5 points per game through two games in the IBPL and making his EuroLeague debut in a 106-71 victory vs. Alba Berlin.

But his journey to one of the top leagues in the world was not easy. It was one that took a coach who believed in Thomasson the person and Thomasson the athlete, stops at multiple different colleges, and a trip overseas.

The first big stop on his journey to professional basketball was at Thurgood Marshall High School, where he would be coached by now Northmont Senior head coach Darnell Hoskins.

He is “the best high school basketball player I have ever coached to date,” Hoskins said in the interview with this reporter.

But the basketball world almost never got to see that skill.

“When I first took the job at Thurgood, Joe did not take attendance or class participation seriously,” Hoskins recalled. “I grabbed everyone’s transcript record, and everyone was telling me that Joe Thomasson would be the best player coming back… I told him you’re going to be the greatest player to never play for me.”

When recalling that discussion, the coach said, “From that moment on, I think that it registered with him that he cares more about me as a person than a basketball player.”  Thomasson heard the message loud and clear, and no one was happier than his mother. “His mom was so grateful and thankful that I actually came into his life; he was kind of at a crossroads; his mom didn’t really have that level of influence over him and needed that fatherly figure to come into his life,” Hoskins said.

While at Thurgood Marshall, he was a standout guard, averaging 16 points per game, according to his Wright State University roster profile. He helped lead the Cougars to a state championship game appearance in his senior year, where they ultimately fell short.

After his time at Thurgood Marshall, Thomasson was set on signing his national letter of intent to continue his career at Wright State. However, his early high school academic habits caught up to him, and he would not be admitted to the university due to not meeting the NCAA academic requirements, telling the Dayton Daily News that he “found out last minute.”

But, as he would end up proving time and time again, this was just a minor setback for the huge future that he had ahead of him.

Thomasson would enroll at State Fair Community College, in Sedalia, Missouri. At State Fair, he would continue to prove what he was capable of on the court. According to his WSU roster profile, he would go on to average 14.2 points per game and be named to the Region 16 First Team. His sophomore season would be no different, as he would average 18 points en route to being named a Junior College All-American.

Again, Thomasson would commit to play NCAA Division I basketball, this time committing to Oklahoma State, but shortly after, he changed his decision to honor his original commitment to Wright State.

At WSU, Thomasson would continue to shine, averaging 10 points per game his junior season and 9.6 points per game his senior year, according to Sports Reference. It was his senior year that Hoskins really started to see the trajectory of Thomasson’s career.

“He was a very very good college player but the things he was able to do despite not being the biggest or fastest but being the smartest would allow him to play for money,  he always found a way to neutralize the playing field and that’s what great players do… He sees the game from a completely different lens than everyone else,” the coach explained.

While at WSU, Thomasson would also be named to the Horizon League All-Defensive Team. Despite these accolades, he did not get an NBA look out of college. So instead of hanging up the shoes, he took his talents to Romania and signed with CS Dinamo Bucureti. This is where he would begin his European career.

His performances in Europe finally drew the attention of a United States-based team when he had a short stint with the Erie BayHawks (now known as the Osceola Magic). However, his time playing professional basketball in the United States was short-lived, as he only appeared in three games before signing with SKS Starogard Gdanski in the Polish First League.

Now, with a strong college career that includes stops at multiple European clubs across top domestic leagues, as well as making his EuroLeague debut this year, there’s no discrediting Thomasson. His journey through the basketball ranks was not an easy one, but it is one that made him who he is today.

“Joe can do whatever he wants,” Hoskins said. “For him at this age now, the way he’s positioned now with his duality and passport so that he can play as a European player, all it does is increase his value for playing in Europe, and him and his agent can name his price.”

This reporter’s attempts to reach Thomasson for comment were unsuccessful.

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