Women’s Coach, Father Still Sharing Bond of Basketball for Comets
The Comets Are Getting Ready for Their NCAA Opening Round Game on Saturday at the Activity Center
Esteban Bustillos, managing editor of The Mercury — the student newspaper at UT Dallas — wrote this article.
UT Dallas women’s basketball coach Polly Thomason (left) has guided the Comets with an assist from her dad, James (right). James Thomason, who serves as a volunteer assistant coach on his daughter’s staff, spent 15 years coaching boys and girls basketball at the high school and middle school levels. (Yang Xi/Mercury Staff Photographer)
Head women’s basketball coach Polly Thomason faced a turning point in her youth that helped define who she was for the rest of her life.
That moment came during her senior year as a member of the varsity basketball team at Martin High School in Arlington. She had been a member of the squad since she was a sophomore and thought she should be starting.
Despite her track record, she still found herself on the bench to start the year.
“The first three or four games of the year I wasn’t starting,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Dad, this makes me really mad. I just want to transfer. Let me go to another high school.’”
Instead of supporting his daughter’s request, James Thomason pointed out the error in her way of thinking. He told her she was sitting on the bench because she could play at every position and was a better asset to the team coming in to replace the player who was struggling the most.
Even though she didn’t like that answer, she stayed on, eventually became a starter and was named All-District her senior year, helping to lead her team to the state playoffs.
As an adult, she’s still taking advice from her father who is a volunteer assistant coach on her staff.
The arrangement began after her first year as a coach at UT Dallas. Thomason would always talk to her father after games about what happened. During these conversations, he would often share insights that she hadn’t thought about during the contest.
“I was like, ‘OK, I would like to know this information while the game is going on,’” she said. “So I asked him, ‘Would you mind sitting on the bench and being my assistant?’”
NCAA Division III National Tournament
First and Second Rounds
UT Dallas Activity Center
3 p.m.: UT Tyler vs. Southwestern University
5:30 p.m.: UT Dallas vs. Rhodes College
3 p.m.: Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner
Tickets: $10 for adults, $5 for college students and children.
Online: Live video and stats for all three games will be available at cometsports.utdallas.edu/.
Comet Facts: The Comets, making their second appearance in the national tournament, will be looking for their first win in the tourney. In 2013, they lost 45-40 to Washington-St. Louis in the opening round. This year's team is riding an eight-game winning streak, one short of the school record. UT Dallas has never played Rhodes College.
The only caveat was that she was allowed to tell him, "No," and he couldn’t get offended if they didn’t agree.
“When we’re in this role, I’m the boss,” she said.
James Thomason, who is now retired, spent 15 years coaching boys and girls basketball at the high school and middle school levels. He coached at schools from small towns in West Texas to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and finished with five district titles before retiring.
As a member of the UT Dallas coaching team, he said he adds an extra set of eyes that helps catch some of the details that his daughter may miss during the game. During games, he keeps track of what shots are working and what shots aren’t for the Comets.
“I know who’s making the shots and where they’re taking them,” James Thomason said.
Game planning is also part of his role. He sends Polly Thomason two or three emails a day about strategies and thoughts on upcoming games.
“Sometimes I like them, and sometimes I’m annoyed by them,” she said. “It’s just like with any parent. It’s like, ‘Come on!’ I just have to remember that he’s not telling me what to do. He’s not telling me he knows more than me. He’s just trying to help.”
He also helps in recruiting, particularly in the Arlington and Fort Worth areas, where he resides. He helps scout the talent that the rest of Thomason’s staff doesn’t have the time or resources to look at.
He is on the sidelines for every game, including road games, which he drives to himself. This year’s home game against Howard Payne was the first game that he has missed in his 10 years as a coach for the Comets.
“He goes out to Mississippi (College). He goes out to Sul Ross. He loves it,” Polly Thomason said. “I can’t imagine him ever not being there.”
James Thomason’s influence on his daughter was huge when she was growing up, particularly when it came to her participation in athletics. Title IX was relatively new at the time and the thought of girls playing sports was still considered taboo by many.
This particularly affected Thomason’s mother, who wanted to participate in sports but was barred from doing so by her parents.
“As soon as she had daughters, she was like, ‘Yeah, y’all are playing if you want,’” Polly Thomason said.
Sports were always a part of the conversation in the Thomason household, and the hours James Thomason spent coaching in the gym rubbed off on his daughter.
As Polly Thomason has progressed as a coach, her father has told her to work the players hard but to make it fun for them.
This and other qualities have been passed on from one generation to the next. They’re both very easygoing, James Thomason said. More than that, though, they’re both hardworking.
“I think that what I’ve always tried to teach her is that it takes hard work to be the best at anything, and that’s what she’s trying to do,” James Thomason said.
Polly Thomason has only improved as she’s progressed as a coach, and has become much better at the job than he ever was, James Thomason said.
Polly Thomason said that if it wasn’t for the support of her parents, she never would have been able to make it this far.
“This is not an easy profession to get into, and they were like, ‘Go for it,’” she said. “I’m very blessed. If it wasn’t for them saying ‘Go chase your dreams. Go do what you want to do in this life,’ I wouldn’t be here today.”
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].