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Pro basketball: Onalaska grad Matt Thomas makes hometown stop before heading overseas

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Onalaska grad Matt Thomas makes hometown stop before heading overseas

Former Onalaska High School and Iowa State University basketball star Matt Thomas leads participants in his basketball camp in a pep talk Monday at Onalaska High School.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune

ONALASKA — The planning was detailed and the execution managed.

More than 90 kids — broken up into two sessions — entered the Charles Deeth Fieldhouse at Onalaska High School on Monday with the hope to learn everything they could from a true professional basketball player.

That’s what Matt Thomas is after signing a one-year contract with Obradoiro of the Spanish ACB League, and the Onalaska graduate staged the first of his two-day basketball camp on the same court he used to torch opponents for four seasons.

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Onalaska grad Matt Thomas makes hometown stop before heading overseas

Players watch as former Onalaska High School and Iowa State University basketball star Matt Thomas shoots during his basketball camp Monday at Onalaska High School. Over 90 kids are attending the two-day camp that continues today.

There were things he insisted on being part of the classroom — shooting would be one subject, of course, but time to stress footwork was a must — in an atmosphere that was made to be fun.

Thomas surrounded himself with local faces to help out. His older brother Tony was there, and so was his younger sister Josie. His mom, Martha, was there, and so was Onalaska coach Craig Kowal and a handful of players from last year’s team.

Players drilled and scrimmaged around teaching sessions before ending three hours after they started. The first group, made up of first- through sixth-graders, finished at noon before approaching getting their camp shirts and returning to him for autographs.

“Do you have a pen or marker?” he asked the unsuspecting fan.

It was the only thing for which Thomas seemed unprepared as he worked with kids, made calls to secure his visa so he can report for his new job in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, later this week and had fun doing something other players did for him when he was growing up.

“I picked up so many things from the camps I went to when I was a kid,” Thomas said, “that I had a lot of things to choose from in setting this one up.

“The most important thing to me was just sharing something like this with the kids and watching them get better the more times they did what we asked of them.”

Thomas, a 6-foot-4 guard who averaged 9.6 points per game in helping the Los Angeles Lakers win the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas last month, will join his Obradoiro teammates as soon as he can, but the first part of this week was about camp.

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Onalaska grad Matt Thomas makes hometown stop before heading overseas

An aspiring basketball player takes aim as former Onalaska High School and Iowa State University basketball star Matt Thomas looks on Monday during his basketball camp at Onalaska High School. More than 90 kids are attending the two-day camp that continues today.

“This is the way I can give back to my community and the Coulee Region,” said Thomas, who also staged a silent auction of memorabilia and donated half of its proceeds to Onalaska’s adaptive sports program.

Having friends, family members and mentors involved was important to Thomas, who helped Onalaska win a WIAA Division 2 state championship and Iowa State qualify for four NCAA Tournaments.

Up next is navigating his way to Spain for the next step in his basketball career. Thomas signed a one-year contract with the team two weeks ago and is anxious to get started.

“I’ve heard good things about (the ACB), and some people say it’s the second-best league out there next to the NBA,” Thomas said. “I don’t have any guarantees about how they will use me as a player, but they think I can thrive in their offense and be a good player and person for their team.”

The good news is that Thomas hasn’t had to spend time looking for a place to live from afar. He said an apartment and car are provided by the team as part of his contract.

Most of what Thomas has learned about his new home has come from friends and acquaintances who used to play there.

Winona’s Alec Brown, one of his teammates with the Lakers over the summer, played for Obradoiro in 2015-2016 and provided input. Former Purdue standout Robbie Hummel, who played there in 2012-2013, was another source for Thomas.

He feels like it gave him a working knowledge of his future surroundings.

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Onalaska grad Matt Thomas makes hometown stop before heading overseas

Matt Thomas, a former Onalaska High School and Iowa State University basketball star, is accompanied by his brother, Tony Thomas, also a former Hilltoppers’ player, Monday during the Matt Thomas Basketball Camp at Onalaska High School.

“I feel like I know as much as I can,” said Thomas, who traveled to a different part of Spain during a summer trip as a player with Iowa State. “I won’t understand everything until I get there, but I feel good about what I know at this point.”

The best non-basketball news he heard?

“I will be 30 minutes away from the Atlantic Ocean,” he said. “I’ve heard the seafood is unreal.”

This initial opportunity could lead to others for Thomas, but he is focused on what he can do in the Spanish League for now. A strong showing in July piqued interest from around the NBA, and that could materialize into something if Thomas excels in Spain.

But he could also enjoy playing overseas and not be in a hurry to leave.

“It’s all about the best opportunity,” he said. “I’m not sure where this (career) will take me, and that’s exciting, too.”

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