Saturday, January 31, 2004

Catching up with... Steve Thomas

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Fans needled Steve Thomas in Cintas Center last season the day Xavier's David West threatened Thomas' single-game school record of 50 points.

"I was kidding (yelling to coach Thad Matta), 'Hey Thad, he needs a rest,' " Thomas said.

West finished with 47, leaving Thomas' record intact. Thomas also had a 45-point game that's tied for third-most in school history, and that came against UC - the highest point total in a Crosstown Shootout.

Both those big games came in 1963-64, his junior season, when Thomas posted the school's highest single-season scoring average (30.0 ppg). That mark and his record 23.6-point career average still stand.

"That's hard to believe, those (records) are still holding on," Thomas said. "It's 40 years later."

Thomas, 61, retired in 1995 after 20 years as a trust officer for Fifth Third Bank, following jobs with Coca-Cola and Interlake Steel (now Newport Steel). He lives in Anderson Township with his wife, Karen, and has a daughter and two stepchildren.

Thomas, a member of the Xavier Athletic Hall of Fame who ranks No. 7 on XU's scoring list (1,722 points), admits there's plenty of what-if in his basketball history. Knee injuries curtailed his career and cost him a chance at the NBA.

In 1963-64, Thomas led an XU group that averaged 89.7 points and went 16-10. He scored his 50 points in a 121-113 victory over Detroit. Yet he said his 45 in a 94-92 loss to UC rang hollow when he was called for traveling in the final five seconds.

"That's a nightmare that never ends," Thomas said.

He blew out a knee halfway through his senior year and was granted a redshirt half-season. But after struggling through pain in five games the next season, he had to stop. He reinjured the knee the day before he was to take part in the Cincinnati Royals' rookie camp.

"I felt there wasn't anybody in the country that could guard me," Thomas said. "But I never got the chance to see if I could (play in the NBA)."

Thomas beams about the continued rise of XU's program. "They've done remarkably well," he said.

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