When he gets to play college basketball next year, Steve Thomas will be in for a surprise. It won't be from the strangeness of new surroundings, but from the comfortable familiarity of one's own place.
Wherever he goes to school, he will study in his school's own classrooms, practice basketball in its own facility and play in its own arena. And those are things the 6-foot-7, 222-pound senior center hasn't been able to do the last three years.
Thomas, Walbrook's captain and one of the area's top college prospects, has been a rock of stability for the No. 5 Warriors (9-6, 5-2) on and off the court since he joined the varsity as a 6-5, 180-pound freshman.
But after that first season Walbrook was forced to vacate its building for asbestos removal and move temporarily into Southwestern. Now the Warriors bus to and from their practices at Harlem Park Middle School and Robert Marshall Recreation Center and their home games at University of Baltimore and Community College of Baltimore.
"It's just so frustrating going from building to building with no home floor," said Thomas.
And, while his big body is needed for inside play even as his heart yearns to take the outside jumper he's perfected, Thomas is an accommodating sort. "I had to learn to adjust," he said. "Sometimes I get frustrated, but I don't let it affect me."
"He's a good person and has a good work ethic," said Walbrook coach Gus Herrington. "He wants something out of life and he's willing to work for it . . . He's been our most consistent player and probably our most productive."
The numbers tell the story. Thomas, who Herrington said was a shot-blocker/rebounder when he came to Walbrook and later developed offensively, averages about 15 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
And off the court he carries a 3.2 grade point average. Last year he was selected for the first annual NAACP all-star game and designated one of four scholar-athletes by the sponsor, the only city public school student and underclassman so honored.
Thomas' father died when he was 2 and he lives with his mother, who tries to attend every game. "My mother is the most inspiring person in my life because she has to be both mother and father," he said. "When I'm doing something wrong, she'll correct me."
From running track (400 meters) and cross country, Thomas has learned what it takes to succeed over both the short and long runs. He'd like "to obtain a master's degree. But if the opportunity comes to play professionally, I'd go back to school."
A few high-profile colleges have started calling, but Thomas, demonstrating that he also knows something about loyalty, is most serious about Towson State, Richmond and Old Dominion. "Those three stuck beside me and showed the most interest," he said.
Choosing the right school is the most important thing in Thomas' life. But it's also important, he said, "to have fun while you play basketball. Everybody loses. Just play to have fun and to the best of your abilities. Never accept losing. If you accept not being successful you'll never make progress."