EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Former UTEP basketball standout Omar Thomas has returned to El Paso after accepting an assistant coaching job at Pebble Hills High School.
The Spartans, coached by Arturo Escobar, finished last season 17-14 (4-6). The 4-6 mark in a competitive District 1-6A was good for a fifth place finish.
“Everyone wants to be a head coach, but I want to learn from a great coach [Arturo Escobar],” said Thomas. “I want to pick his brain and I’m sure he’s going to pick my brain.”
The announcement was made on social media last week and since the big news broke, the excitement level surrounding the basketball program is at an all-time high with a relatively new program.
“There’s already a buzz within the program,” said Escobar. “The kids are excited and they’re not too familiar with UTEP basketball and some of the history, but we’ll answer some questions and feed them. They can check out some YouTube videos and see what coach Thomas brought to the table.”
Thomas led the Miners to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances under Billy Gillispie in 2004 and Doc Sadler in 2005. He averaged 18.1 points per game in his two seasons at UTEP and was an 81% free throw shooter.
Following graduation, Thomas played 12 years of professional basketball overseas before retiring and starting his coaching career at Southern Miss under Sadler. However, the college game was not what he expected it to be.
“I’ve seen the business side of college and it left a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth,” said Thomas. “I’d rather have stability and try to help kids at a younger age. I can mold them in high school before they get to college.”
“The thing that made him successful [as a player] was how hard he worked and not everyone wants to work that hard as player,” added Sadler, who is now an assistant coach at Nebraska. “I think that was a little bit of an adjustment as to why everyone didn’t have the same passion that he did.”
As a coach, Thomas gets after his players. He coached the Chaparral girls basketball team last season.
“I have some Billy [Gillispie] in me — some Doc [Sadler], but ultimately — I’m a players coach,” said Thomas. “I’ve been in their shoes, I get it and I know how to motivate. I’m a great motivator.”
“He has unbelievable player-coach relationships,” said Sadler. “He’s going to do a great job. Hopefully the players will see his passion that he has for the game.”
The high school basketball season in Texas is scheduled to tip-off Nov. 13.