Charles Thomas Jr. played guard for the men's varsity basketball team from 1998-2002 and graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in science business. He now resides in Northern Virginia.

Scars, Exile & Vindication: My Life as an Experiment

Oct. 12, 2012

The following is an excerpt from a memoir published in June 2012 by Charles Thomas, Jr., a 2002 Notre Dame graduate and a four-year member of the Irish men’s basketball team.

Three days into fall break, my mom and I were in the kitchen getting ready for a high school basketball game. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was such an exciting and defining moment in my life, how could I possibly have forgotten even the smallest detail? It’s impossible. I can never forget.

Like I said, I was standing in the kitchen talking to Moms when the phone rings. The voice on the other end said, “May I speak to Charles?”

I’m like, “Yeah, this is me. Who is this?”

He said, “BT.”

Now, I have a friend named BT, but he was young like me at the time and this was a grown man on the phone, so I said, “Come on, man, stop playing, fa’ real … Who is this? I don’t have time to be playing on the phone because me and Moms about to go to a game.”

He was like, “It’s Coach BT (Billy Taylor) from Notre Dame.”

I was speechless… All I could do was apologize. He laughed it off and proceeded to tell me that an actual walk-on tryout was unnecessary for me. He explained that I had proven myself enough through playing in pick-up games and working out. He said, “The guys love you, the coaching staff loves you, and we think you would be an asset to the program.”

I was still speechless, and that doesn’t happen often–hardly ever, actually. He told me to come back to school the following day and be ready for practice. “What number do you want, by the way?” he asked.

“Number five,” I replied. For Notre Dame, at guard, number five from Flint, Michigan, Charles Thomas. A dream was slowly but surely turning into a reality. No matter what happened from this point forward, I knew that giving in to any type of pressure was not an option. I am sure some people wanted me to fail, and I am sure others wanted me to succeed. The only thing that I knew with absolute certainty was that I was a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame, and nothing was going to stop me from succeeding in life and living life to the fullest. A kid from Flint, Michigan, he had not only been accepted to one of the most prestigious universities in the U.S., but was also a member of the men’s varsity basketball team. From nothing to something, dreams do come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them (John Updike).

The next day, I was back on campus. As I write this, the same emotions that I experienced in October of 1998 come rushing back to me: elation, excitement, joy, apprehension, uncertainty, and a feeling of “I told you so.” The tables had turned. People were no longer saying, “You can’t do that,” or “There is no way in hell to accomplish that.” Instead their words transformed into, “How in the hell did you do that?” I will tell you how in four words, which I have tattooed on my chest: faith, desire, resilience, patience. Many people would have folded and given up if facing the odds I faced, but I had nothing to lose. I had too many people who cared about me and I knew what I wanted, so not getting it wasn’t an alternative for me. In my mind, it was never a long shot; my goals then and now are always well within my reach. I just have to make sure I hold on to them once I grab them.

I went back to campus and other than some of the athletic teams, only a few students were still on campus during fall break. I unpacked my bags and went to the gym to join the team for practice. I walked in, and the experience was surreal; the team clapped, some of the guys hugged me like a younger brother, and everyone welcomed me with open arms. I was in heaven. Although a lot of kids my age were playing basketball at a major Division I university, they were supposed to be there. I wasn’t. I was given a list of reasons by adults and many of my peers as to why I would not make it. Had I listened to all of the haters, I wouldn’t have made it. I was there, though, and loving every minute of it.

Charles Thomas Jr. was born and raised in Flint, Mich. After graduating from Powers Catholic High School, Thomas attended Notre Dame where he was a member of the men’s varsity basketball team from 1998-2002. As a student-athlete, Thomas excelled academically and was chosen as the recipient of the Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley Rockne Student-Athlete Award and NAACP Senior of the Year in ’02. Since graduating from Notre Dame’s College of Science with a degree in science business, Thomas has earned an assortment of executive-level certificates and multiple advanced level degrees. He currently lives in Northern Virginia.