Midwest Hoops Legend Leaving South Florida

Deon Thomas, the former University of Illinois basketball star who had retired in South Florida and who started a new career coaching junior varsity at The University School in Fort Lauderdale, just landed his first collegiate coaching job. Thomas is the new head basketball coach and athletic director of Lewis & Clark Community College in Alton, Ill.

With his fiery on-court demeanor and his discipline off the court, Thomas just seems like a natural for the coaching profession. Last month, Juice did a two-part series about how Thomas was the prize in one of college basketball's most ruthless recruiting battles and how in spite of the fallout, he still made good on enormous expectations, becoming the Illini program's all-time leading scorer. After graduating, Thomas enjoyed a long, successful professional hoops career in Europe.

With Thomas and his family moving to his home state of Illinois, I'm reminded of a moment from my interview with him in March.

I ask Thomas whether he'd return to his alma mater to coach. He breaks into a big smile. "Right now they're all full," says Thomas of Illinois' coaching staff. "A friend asked me about my dream job. That would be a dream job."

From Alton, which is just north and across the border from St. Louis, it's a 3-hour drive northeast to Illinois' Champaign-Urbana campus.

I've left a message with Thomas and will update when I hear back. A friend who worked in St. Louis tells me Alton's a "neat-looking little river city" with spectacular houses that line the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River. Wikipedia tells me that it was the birthplace of Miles Davis. Wow. So I guess it's a pretty good place to launch a career.

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