“It’s not often someone can return to your alma mater where you played, coach 25 years and retire with your dad [and mom] watching your final game in the NCAA Tournament.” CBS basketball commentator Tim Brando made that statement last Friday near the end of the University of the Pacific game against Miami as UOP coach and former Clayton Valley High School star Bob Thomason was coaching his final game.
UOP lost to #2 seed Miami 78-49 but that did little to take the luster off Thomason as he bowed out following a distinguished career, having taken Pacific to five NCAA Tournaments and winning more games than any coach in his conference history.
Thomason’s basketball career began on the Clayton Valley Elementary playground (current site of Kings Valley School). He was in fourth grade when he made the fifth grade team and played in the Concord Recreation Department league for three years “for Mr. Clark with our games on Saturdays at Clayton Valley.” He continued playing at El Dorado Intermediate.
He entered high school in 1963, three years before Concord High School opened so he went to Clayton Valley. He played junior varsity as a freshman before joining coach Bruce Iversen’s varsity for three years. (The two would be inducted together in 1988 with the inaugural CVHS Athletic Hall of Fame class.) The Eagles won the Diablo Valley Athletic League two of those three years, although Thomason says the team his junior year was supposed to be the best but didn’t win the championship.
Iversen was known for his full-court pressing defense and high-scoring offense. Thomason wasn’t a one-man show. When he was a sophomore Gary Logsdon and Jim Carmean led the team to both the Tournament of Champions in Berkeley and Camellia Tournament in Sacramento. This was 10 years before the North Coast Section playoffs started. Art Bentley and Ken Harvey were key cogs along with Thomason in his junior year.
As a senior captain Thomason found a pair of sophs, Marc Lee and Carl Massey, joining Bob Newkirk, Lowell Gossell, Steve Wilson, Rex McQuillen and Doug Maxwell in a season the school yearbook termed “Cinderella.” The Eagles defeated Pittsburg 93-82 in a memorable DVAL Championship game. Thomason set a school record with 42 points in a pre-season game and CVHS concluded the year with a fourth-place finish at the Camellia Tournament.
Thomason accumulated a raft of post-season honors that continued when he was named to the East Bay high school basketball quarter century team roster for 1947-1972. Logsdon was an honorable mention selection.
The Concord Transcript quoted Iversen, “Bob has no jump shot….but compensates for this with very quick hands.He gets off a shot faster than any basketball player I’ve ever seen. Bob just has a knack of being in the right place at the right time.” His coach concluded by calling him “the finest basketball player I’ve had the privilege of coaching and certainly the most dedicated.”
You had to look no further than his dad to figure out where Thomason got his basketball talent and IQ. Bob Thomason Sr. played at San Jose State and when Bob was a year old the family moved to Pittsburg and then shortly later to Concord as Bob Sr. coached Pittsburg to tremendous success for eight years. He took a full-time counseling position at Hillview Junior High in Pittsburg in 1961. Both father and son acknowledge that a main reason for stepping aside from coaching was that dad didn’t want to coach against his son.
Thomason was successful at UOP, lettering in both golf and basketball for three years (freshmen weren’t eligible for varsity sports). He was all-conference as a senior, averaging 17.2 points a game and is still 11th on the all-time Pacific scoring list. He scored 19 in a loss to Jerry Tarkanian’s Long Beach State in the 1971 Western Regionals. Years later he coached against Tark the Shark at both UNLV (never beat him there) and Fresno State, where Thomason bested the legendary coach.
After finishing up as a player he was first an assistant coach at Stagg High in Stockton (53-0 in two years) and then the head coach at Escalon and Turlock high schools. He then went to Columbia JC and was so successful he was inducted into the California Community College Men’s Basketball Hall of Fame. That led to the head coaching job with Stanislaus State, “where I used the Clayton Valley press.” Not forgetting his local roots Thomason recruited John Mahloch, who had rewritten the CVHS basketball record book, erasing many of Thomason’s records. The two remain close, tweeting each other before the NCAA tournament.
In 1988 Thomason took over a floundering UOP program with a 22-game losing streak (the longest in the nation) but soon was competing for league championships. His teams made seven post-season appearances during the past 15 years alone. In 1998 UOP center Michael Olowokandi was the No. 1 draft choice of the NBA draft. “Pretty cool for a school like Pacific,” Thomason said.
New Orleans Hornets general manager Dell Demps played for Thomason in his first seasons and says, “He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. When I go out and scout everyone has the utmost respect for coach Thomason. That’s a great compliment, when your peers have to prepare for you or they’re going to get outcoached or embarrassed.”
Thomason wasn’t usually blessed with NBA-calibre players so he “coached to win,” using tactics that fit his roster. His younger son Scott was a walk-on at UOP. “Much harder on Jeff and the team than for me.” His oldest son Jeff also went to UOP.
Thomason, who turned 64 earlier this week, announced his retirement in May 2012 and soon thereafter he and his wife of 40 years, Jerri, sold their Stockton home (“too big”) and moved to Lodi.
At the end of the Miami game the national TV commentators called Thomason, “a wonderful guy with a magnificent career.” Brando said he is “the Regis Philbin of college basketball” with so much success late in his career and Greg Anthony, who played against him for UNLV, said, “let’s give a shout out to Bob Thomason.”