A little over a year ago, Preston Thomas had to make a pivotal decision: Did he stay in Lewisville, Texas and remain on a course that seemed headed toward more problems, or did he switch directions and take a chance on coming to a small town in south-central Oklahoma?

What was it going to be? Stay in the sprawling suburbs of Dallas, where Thomas had already made some poor choices, and the environment presented many negative temptations? Or should Thomas take advantage of an offer from his uncle and aunt and move to Waurika, where the pace was slower, the temptations fewer and he could get a fresh start?

It was a tough decision for a teenager. “I’d been in Lewisville all my life,” Thomas said.

But in the end, self-preservation instinct and maturity won out. He left Lewisville and moved in with Jason and Laura Thomas.

Friday, in the library at Waurika High School, Preston Thomas reaped the benefit of making a positive choice — he accepted a scholarship to attend South Dakota Wesleyan University, where he’ll major in business and play for the basketball and soccer teams.

“Moving to Waurika was a good decision,” Thomas said. “I needed a change, and living in a little town was the best thing for me. It let me get my life together.”

It turned out to be a win-win situation for Thomas and for Waurika High’s basketball program. The 6-2 guard became the final piece in an Eagles team that went from being pretty decent to being one of the top teams in school history.

With Thomas joining Zac Gibson and Do Morris in the backcourt, and Matt Henderson, Dell Farris and Chance Smith doing most of the heavy lifting inside, the Eagles went 24-4, won the Southern 8 Conference title and were district and regional champions.

Although a loss in the Area Tournament consolation bracket denied WHS the goal of reaching the Class A State Tournament, it was the program’s finest season since the 1991 Eagles reached the state title game.

Thomas’ contributions to that success were varied, In addition to averaging 15.4 points per game, he chipped in 4.1 assists and 3 rebounds an outing, and 3.7 steals a game made him a key to a defense that was a secret to Waurika’s noteworthy season.

The numbers were good, but they didn’t keep head coach Jeremy Hogan from wondering how Thomas might have performed had the senior not played the entire season with a nasty shoulder injury. “I got hurt when I fell on it in the very first practice — everything was torn,” noted Thomas, whose right shoulder was surgically repaired three weeks ago.

“The shoulder problem definitely affected what Preston could do this season, but it also showed how tough he is, not many could keep playing with that kind of an injury,” said Hogan, who was delighted Thomas chose South Dakota Wesleyan, an NAIA Div. II program that began a rebuilding process this season under new coach George Hemenway.

“Any time you get a chance to go on and play ball at the college level it’s an indication you’ve got ability, because few get to do that. And I think it’s a good choice for Preston,” Hogan continued.

“He’ll have it a little tougher playing two sports. It’s going to mean he’ll have to manage his time well, because sports is a full-time job at that level.

“But I think Preston can do it. It’s a great opportunity for him.”

In Waurika’s three-guard alignment, Thomas was the two guard but often ended up on the point. He said Hemenway, whose first SDW club was 14-17, envisions Thomas as a dual threat at the college level.

“(Hemenway) said he was thinking of me more as a true point guard than a ‘two’ guard, but he also said I’d be able to jack it up from outside, too,” he noted.

In accepting a scholarship that could be worth $80,000 if he completes graduation, Thomas picked South Dakota Wesleyan over East Central University, the Oklahoma school that was courting him hardest. A key in that decision was the chance to return to playing soccer.

Thomas played the American brand of football as a senior at WHS, returning to the gridiron for the first time since he was a freshman. But his heart belongs to the game most of the rest of the world knows as ‘futball.” He started playing soccer as a child and came up through the club teams in Lewisville and suburban Dallas. He played as a sophomore and junior on Lewisville High’s team.

At SDW, Thomas will also get in on building a program. The school just added soccer last year, and coach Brad Smith’s Tigers went 10-8 in its first season.

“I can’t wait to get back to playing soccer, that’s where the real love is,” Thomas said. “I love basketball, but until this year I’d played soccer all my life. Soccer is what taught me agility and motor skills.

“While I was living here, I took a (soccer) ball out every so often, but I haven’t really played for a while, so I’m really ready to get back to playing it.”

This Week's Circulars