LOMBARD, Ill. – During a Montini Catholic basketball practice “DT” is everywhere you look and listen.
“Every day, every practice it’s always there. We never not celebrate DT,” Bob Lozano said of his predecessor.
DT is Daryl Thomas, Montini’s former boys basketball coach, who died unexpectedly last March at 52.
“I’m still shocked he’s not here. He was bigger than life”
Thomas was basketball royalty.
A McDonald’s All-American Career at St. Joseph’s, followed by an All-Big Ten tenure at Indiana under Bobby Knight, helping the Hoosiers win the 1987 National Championship.
After a long professional career overseas, Thomas began coaching, landing at Montini four years ago.
“Gritty hard-nosed, but still had that teddy bear part of him. Some Bobby Knight flair rubbed off on him. Fair but tough.”
This season turned into a commemoration for coach.
In December, senior Luke Morrill organized a memorial game against Thomas’ alma mater, St. Joes.
“Two schools coming together to honor a great man,” explained Morrill.
“Daryl Thomas Night. It was crazy,” remarked sophomore Kai Matthew Evans. “Probably the most packed game Montini has ever had.”
As the Montini Basketball team continues to find ways to honor the late Coach Thomas, the community is again grieving for the loss of another coach at the school.
“Best guy I’ve ever met,” noted Montini lacrosse coach Lee Fuller.
“Greatest man, greatest coach ever had pleasure of knowing,” said goalie David Leonard.
“One hundred percent selfless, one hundred percent dedicated,” described defenseman Nathan Sniegowski.
Mike Thuma made a lasting impact during his time at Montini.
“He was lacrosse all the time. He affected so many lives and growing the game in Illinois.”
Fighting for the game, while fighting cancer.
“It didn’t define who he was at all. He didn’t let it show,” remarked defenseman George Lambesis.
His dedication to lacrosse and his players never wavered, even when cancer cost him his leg last spring.
“Seeing him back the first day on crutches, all of us were kind of sad at first but then it became inspiring to see how much he cared.
“As a team we all went to the locker room and said, ‘This is coach’s season for everything he sacrificed.”
The players did not know it would be their last season with coach.
In December, just days after the school’s memorial game for Daryl Thomas, Mike Thuma passed away from cancer at 54.
“Don’t think there are words to describe that moment honestly. He made such an impact on all of us. It took me a couple minutes to really hit me then minutes later, ‘Wow. I don’t get to see coach next year.'”
Like the basketball team, the lacrosse program will dedicate the season in their coach’s memory, while coping with the loss.
“I think in times like this you really see we truly are a school community – a community that cares for one another.”
In the face of two tragedies, the best of Montini shown through.
“We kind of have a fighting spirit this year for two teams, everyone pushing through looking for good things from both of them.”
“Everyday we know we play for somebody.”
“Every time we think about slacking, taking off, we think of him and it gives us strength to go harder.”
A pair of coaches gone but not forgotten.
If you just look and listen.