Dec. 19, 2000
by Alan Wasielewski
The typical walk-on story: Child falls in love with a college, will do anything to play his or her favorite sport at that college. Against all odds, he or she makes the team to fulfill a life-long dream.
The atypical walk-on story: Notre Dame junior guard Charles Thomas.
Offered several Division I scholarships to play basketball, Thomas chose to enroll at Notre Dame not for the work on the hardwood – but for the work in the classroom.
“I had seven or eight scholarship offers coming out of high school,” Thomas says.
“They did not have the academic reputation that I wanted. My (school) counselor told me to apply at Notre Dame. I thought it was located out in California so I decided to apply here. It wasn’t in California, but it has the academic reputation I was looking for.”
So much for the typical walk-on life-long crush with a team. After not even wanting to play basketball when he arrived, Thomas soon was working out with the basketball team in the fall of his freshman year at Notre Dame. But he was still was not sure that he wanted to actually play on the team.
“I played with the team every day,” Thomas said. “I told myself, ‘I am not going to do it. I have to concentrate on school.’ I called my Mom and she said you might as well keep going. You have nothing to lose. She has never been wrong so I heeded her advice. “My Mom wanted me to come to Notre Dame and play basketball. She knew I was good enough to play from the beginning. She had a lot more confidence in me than I did.”
Mom’s advice allowed the much needed time for the Notre Dame coaches to twist Thomas’ arm and convince him to try out for the team. To be honest, the 5-11 guard out of Flint, Mich., was not completely out of touch with the Notre Dame basketball program. He knew what he was getting into. “At first people did not understand why I wanted to play basketball here after giving up all those Division I scholarships,” Thomas says. “Now they say, ‘You play basketball at Notre Dame. I want to play there too.’ Just being part of the team is pretty cool.”
Thomas also has broken the typical walk-on protocol with his current coach.
“When Coach (Mike) Brey came in he said, ‘I don’t even consider you a walk-on. You have been here and you have been through everything the rest of the team has been through.’ That gave me a lot of confidence and made me realize ‘Yeah, I have been here through it all. I just don’t have a scholarship title.'”
A National Honor Society member at Powers Catholic High School, Thomas credits his mother and father with instilling the drive to excel in the classroom. The drive that made him choose Notre Dame for its academic reputation.
“(My Mom and Dad) would not let me go out and play when I was young until I did my work,” Thomas explains.
“I couldn’t go to the playground, the park or anywhere else until I got my (school) work done. When I got to high school it was the same thing. My Mom always stresses study, study, study. You must do your homework first. Now it is like second nature to me. After practice or before practice, I am in my room studying.”
It is a habit that “Chuck,” as Thomas is known to the Irish players and coaches, catches a few ribs about in the locker room.
“They always say that I am studying too much,” Thomas says.
“But you have to do it.”
While feeling more and more a part of the team, Thomas has not lost his sights on the goals he set for himself when he enrolled at Notre Dame.
“Academics never come second to me,” Thomas says.
“The other day I didn’t go to practice because I had a final. I fell behind a bit and Coach Brey understood. When I do something, I have to do it well. Sometimes when we practice, and I get tired, I still stay up late because I do not like to fall behind. Falling behind is the worst, because it will make you uneasy in all the other aspects of your life.”
Thomas isn’t uneasy about his role on the 2000-01 Irish squad. Although not seeing much playing time during games, Thomas recognizes his biggest contributions are in non-game situations. He has taken on the challenge this season of being a role model for teammate and freshman guard Torrian Jones. Since Jones arrived in the fall, the two spend most of their free time hanging out with each other.
“Torrian is my best friend on the team,” Thomas says.
“I am tight with all the guys, but Torrian and I spend a lot of time together when we are not studying. I always tell him to work hard and don’t let the older guys tell you what you can and cannot do.
Sometimes I have to remind him not to be intimidated. When you have some All-American type players like junior Troy (Murphy) and senior Ryan (Humphrey), you might cower down and not play your game. But so far he has done a pretty good job of not doing that.”
As Thomas has battled senior captain Martin Ingelsby, junior forward David Graves and sophomore guard Matt Carroll in practice everyday, he has gained the confidence that when called upon, he can produce for his team.
Thomas admits finding that confidence was tough for the first two years. In his freshman season, he felt a bit of a distance with his teammates because he was not involved in every practice. Gradually, he has developed to where he will jump up off the bench without hesitation if his name is called.
“My freshman year I knew I wasn’t going to play,” Thomas says.
“A freshman walk-on is not going to play regardless of what happens. Last year, there were times when I thought I was good enough to play but I didn’t have the confidence in myself.
“This year, I know that if Coach Brey puts me in I am going to be able to do well. I have had a chance to play with the guys and I know that I am good enough to play. Even though I am not playing a lot, I know that Coach Brey has confidence in me.
“If the situation presented itself where I had to play a lot, he would not look down and say, ‘Man, we have to put him in.’ He would just say, ‘Chuck, go get ’em.'”
And “Chuck” has done a good job of that this season as he has seen action in three games scoring eight points, including a three pointer and recording two steals in only 11 minutes of action.
A science business major in the School of Science at Notre Dame, Thomas is not sure what the immediate future holds for him upon graduation. Medical school is an option, but he also holds a desire to work for the Central Intelligence Agency.
“I haven’t closed the door on med school yet but I don’t want to go to school for another 30 years,” Thomas says.
“I want to work with the CIA, maybe in forensic science. It takes a special kind of person to do that kind of work. That is a challenge I would love to take on.”
But first he has tackle the challenges of academics and athletics at Notre Dame.