The 2010-11 Albany Herald Willie Boston Players and Coaches of the Year for basketball took time out for a photo recently. This year's winners are, from left, point guard Terel Hall of Terrell County, Terrell County boys coach John Davis, Terrell Academy girls coach Keith Jones and guard D'Ambria Thomas of Pelham.
Pelham had just beaten Seminole County, 60-55, to win its first Region 1-A title since 1997, and Seminole's legendary coach Jesse McLeod was talking about the difference -- in the game and in the entire region's season.
"It seemed that just about everything Thomas put up went in,'' McLeod said. "But that's the way it is with great players. And she's a great player.''
Thomas scored 29 that night, grabbed seven rebounds and made seven steals. It was just about a typical night for the Pelham senior. She did everything -- and more -- for the Lady Hornets, and topped off her remarkable season by being named The Herald's 2010-11 Willie Boston girls Player of the Year.
While Thomas and the Lady Hornets were rewriting history at Pelham, Keith Jones' Terrell Academy girls team was making a brand of history all its own, not only winning its third straight state title, but winning it all after moving up in classification from GISA Class A to Class AA.
Jones was an easy choice to win The Herald's Willie Boston Coach of the Year award for girls hoops. His team was tough and gutsy and fundamentally sound, making the Xs and Os come alive, while scrambling for every loose ball on the court.
"It was really a satisfying season,'' Jones said. "I think it was a little vindication for our program. Having the opportunity to win three in a row is about as good as it gets, and to do it when we moved up in classification just made it better.''
Jones and his kids heard all year how they couldn't win at the AA level, and that just poured gas on the fire.
"We kind of played with a chip on our shoulder,'' Jones said. "To win it was very, very special.''
TAE finished the season with an 11-game winning streak and a 24-5 record, and Jones cherished every moment -- not just because of his team's success but because of his seniors. Jones started coaching at Terrell Academy 12 years ago when these seniors were first-graders at the school.
"I remember them as first graders in P.E,'' Jones said. "Whatever we were playing, four-squares and kick-ball or whatever, they were right there mixing it up with the boys. I've been with them from first grade through 12th grade. It was extremely satisfying because of this group of kids.
"They are a special group of girls. They stuck to it. You don't see that many kids stay with it and do that. It's great to be able to win three in a row, and it is just as good to se these kids go through the school together. I'm just proud to be associated with this great group of kids.''
It was a memorable year for Jones, and life-changing for Thomas, who earned a scholarship to Fort Valley State. She finished the season averaging 22.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, and she also averaged four steals a night.
"She did everything for us,'' Pelham coach Antonia Tookes said. "She carried us all year. The best thing about her was you didn't know what to expect. She did it all. She might get a rebound, hit a 3-pointer, make a steal, hand out an assist or drive to the basket. She was amazing.''
Thomas was a preseason Herald Super 6er and lived up to the billing, helping to turn Pelham's program around.
"I worked real hard in the summer to get ready (for my senior season),'' Thomas said. "I wanted to have a good season, and we got a new coach and she helped me a lot. Discipline was a big part of why we won. She pushed us to do our best. She motivated us.
"We were a hard-working team, and we never gave up. I was the leader. I felt that was my job as a senior. I felt like I had to do whatever I could to help us win.''
The Lady Hornets had a three-headed monster in Thomas and her cousins Ta'Shaunessey Reese and Octavia Kierce, a pair of juniors who averaged double figures. But when the game was on the line, Thomas often took control, finding different ways to beat teams.
"I felt like I had to step up,'' she said. "I did step up to the plate on the offensive end and the defensive end. It didn't matter. I just tried to do whatever I could, whether it was a steal on defense or a rebound or a shot on offense.''
And the best part of the season?
"The best was when won the region title,'' Thomas said. "We hadn't won a region title in such a long time. I'll never forget winning the region title.''
And they won't soon forget Thomas at Pelham.