Kalamazoo Central's nickname is the Maroon Giants, but when it came to boys basketball it had been the Maroon Giant Underachievers.
Even with Derek Jeter -- yes, that Derek Jeter -- and later Greg Jennings, Central was among the state's least achieving programs that actually had truly good talent.
Then Mike Thomas, looking more like a junior in high school than a head coach, walked in the door. Four years later he had won two Class A state championships along with a runner-up finish.
And now he is gone.
Thomas, 29, has returned to Albion College, where he was a four-year starter, as an assistant coach to Jody May.
"I've always expressed that I always wanted to coach at the college level," Thomas said. "Even when I got the job at Kalamazoo Central, I told them I was trying to build relationships and build my résumé up to get to the college level. Jody said it's kind of hard for college coaches to hire high school guys without much experience."
From where I sit it seems Thomas had all the experience you need. The guy played for Marshall Thomas and Lou Dawkins at Saginaw High before playing for Mike Turner and May at Albion -- four aces that would win any poker hand.
"When he was here as a player he was really competitive and played really hard," May said. "The one big thing that stood out was he had a really high basketball IQ. You told him something one time and you never had to tell him again."
In four years at Central, Thomas compiled a 92-16 record. His state tournament record is a mind-boggling 22-1.
Because he was barred from coaching in this past state tournament after a run-in with an official, Thomas has an amazing 16-game winning streak in state tournament games.
May watched Thomas closely at Central and noticed that the attributes that made him a three-time All-MIAA selection were reflected in his players.
"You can certainly tell he competes and gets his guys to play hard," May said. "He had a great relationship with his players. I'm really excited he's bringing those things here. It was a no-brainer for me."
The game I will always remember Thomas for was his final tournament game when Central stunned Detroit Southeastern in the 2011 championship game.
Southeastern featured Brandan Kearney (Michigan State) and Percy Gibson (Iowa State). Central was missing one starter and two key reserves who Thomas suspended for missing curfew the night before the final, making Central a colossal underdog.
Yet Thomas concocted a masterful game plan, and his players bought in heart and soul, just as they did when he was the guy who looked like their older brother instead of the guy who would change the culture of Central hoops.
"I had great times in Kalamazoo," Thomas said. "I met my wife there. I had my son there. We created a program where guys can go on and be successful later on as far as going to college and pursuing their dreams of playing basketball."
Now it is Thomas' turn to pursue his dream.
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.