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JT takes the reins for North girls

The first time John Thomas headed up the North Medford girls basketball program, it was on an interim basis.

That was nearly five years ago.

Thursday, the 41-year-old Thomas was named to succeed Mike Kay as the Black Tornado coach -- no strings attached.

To be chosen like this, where you have the support of everybody, is a situation you want to be in, says Thomas. When you're selected because of your track record and your contribution, it's quite an honor.

Thomas' appointment was announced to North players at noon Thursday.

I think there are several things John brings to the program, says Kay, who remains the school's athletic director. First, his familiarity with the program and our personnel. Second, is his stability in the community with the kids and the parents and the way he's respected around the basketball community.

Thomas paid his dues working as an assistant coach at St. Mary's, South Medford and North Valley prior to joining North's staff. This will mark his seventh season with the Tornado.

JT, as he's known, was a varsity assistant when Gordon Crowston resigned five games into the 1994-95 season. He applied for the post the following spring but lost out to Kay and remained as an assistant.

His patience was rewarded following Kay's resignation to concentrate on administrative duties earlier this month.

Under Mike, I've learned how a program needs to function and what the wishes of the (school) district are to create an atmosphere that's best for students, Thomas says. That's helped my situation now.

North finished sixth in the SOC during the 1994-95 season as cross-town rival South Medford grabbed the headlines by winning its first Southern Oregon Conference championship. The Tornado was 2-3, losing all three of its SOC games, when Thomas took over.

North beat Ashland, 58-26, in its next game and wound up 8-13 overall and 6-10 under Thomas.

To be honest, I wasn't so concerned about the record that year, Thomas says. What I needed to accomplish was keeping girls in the program. With Chris Parnell's assistance, I was able to get the program moving in a positive direction.

Thomas has overseen North's AAU and youth programs during Kay's tenure. Thus, there are few players in North's program -- or around the valley, for that matter -- that he hasn't coached, coached against or observed.

He's really, really positive and always teaches you the best of things, says senior guard Tennille Bennett. He tells you exactly what you're doing wrong and how to fix it. He knows a lot about the game and boosts your self-esteem.

Crater and North players have mingled a lot during recent summer camps and tournaments, and Crater coach David Heard has seen Thomas at work.

I think he treats kids fairly, says Heard, who like Thomas is an Ashland High graduate. He's been around basketball long enough and he's updated on where girls basketball is in Oregon.

Thomas works at Allied Building Products.

The time frame is scary, Thomas admits. But it's doable. It makes the day real long but forces you to be organized.