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HERALD EXCLUSIVE: Albany St. star guard Thomas leaving program for VSU

April Thomas, a 5-foot-1 guard from Bainbridge, finished fifth in the nation in scoring as a sophomore with 20.2 points per game and averaged 18.5 points per game her freshman year, earning the conference’s Freshman of the Year honor. Thomas announced this week she's transferring to Valdosta State.

April Thomas, a 5-foot-1 guard from Bainbridge, finished fifth in the nation in scoring as a sophomore with 20.2 points per game and averaged 18.5 points per game her freshman year, earning the conference’s Freshman of the Year honor. Thomas announced this week she's transferring to Valdosta State.

ALBANY — Albany State women’s basketball coach Robert Skinner called April Thomas the best scorer to come through ASU in his 23 years with the program.

And now Thomas, a former Bainbridge star and rising junior, is headed to one of the Lady Rams’ biggest rivals.

Thomas confirmed to The Herald on Tuesday that she is transferring to Valdosta State, leaving behind an Albany State team that she had become the cornerstone of.

“We are going to miss her,” Skinner said. “It’s going to be hard to replace that kind of scoring. Her ability to score with her size was phenomenal. Since I have been coaching here, I haven’t had a shooter her size that can score like her.”

Thomas, a 5-foot-1 guard, finished fifth in the nation in scoring as a sophomore with 20.2 points per game and averaged 18.5 points per game her freshman year, earning the conference’s Freshman of the Year honor.

She did most of her damage from long range and was third in all of Division II last season in 3-point field goals made per game (3.23).

Thomas explained to The Herald that she was looking to leave Albany State to receive more exposure on the national stage.

“Valdosta will be a higher challenge for me,” Thomas said. “I’m just looking to play at a higher level to test my skills a little more.”

Skinner said he attempted to convince Thomas to stay with the team but never got a straight answer out of his star player about why she wanted to transfer.

“If I asked April today, she still wouldn’t give me an explanation,” Skinner said. “She has a 3.6 GPA, she was the fifth-leading scorer in the nation and she was our go-to player. She did all of our workouts in the spring. I have no clue why she is leaving. I knew something was wrong and knew she wasn’t totally happy, but I didn’t know it was that bad.”

Thomas said she had no ill feelings toward the ASU program, which had a combined 20-33 record the last two years and didn’t make it past the quarterfinals of the conference tournament either season.

“But I am definitely going to miss some of my teammates who were with me the last two years, and I will miss coach Skinner,” Thomas said. “Coach Skinner gave me my first start and gave me a chance to continue to play basketball after high school.”

ENTIRE TEAMS RELEASED: Thomas and the entire Lady Rams team didn’t have their scholarships renewed following the 2012-13 season, leaving ASU with an empty roster, Skinner revealed to The Herald this week.

It’s a move Skinner has done the last two years with all three sports he coaches — basketball, volleyball and softball — and he uses it as a way to reevaluate which players he wants to bring back and which players are deserving of a scholarship.

Skinner says he plans to bring back his entire basketball team, but he now has the option of raising or lowering a players’ scholarship based on performance.

“It’s something I do every year,” said Skinner, who has by the end of July to renew his players’ scholarships after sending the NCAA a letter earlier in the summer announcing their release. “They know that for the most part I am going to bring everybody back, but it’s a thing where they know that if they don’t do what they are supposed to be doing there can be consequences.”

Skinner believes he is the only coach at ASU to release his players after every season and agrees that it is “dangerous” because it gives them the opportunity to consider other schools. Thomas, however, said Skinner’s offseason tactics didn’t push her to transfer to Valdosta.

“It’s a decision I made for myself,” she said. “Valdosta was one of my first choices when I first graduated from high school, but I didn’t have the exposure then. (Coach Skinner releasing me) didn’t impact that decision.”

RIDLEY GONE, TOO: Skinner also lost his best volleyball player this summer when outside hitter Sharme Ridley decided to transfer to Kennesaw State for what Skinner called “personal reasons.”

Ridley, a rising junior, led the Lady Rams with 424 kills last season and had a hitting percentage of .266, which was second on the team. Ridley, a native of Peachtree City, also had a team-high 37 aces and 302 digs.

“(Ridley) was our main go-to person,” Skinner said. “She was our No. 1 outside hitter, and we are going to miss her hard. I am really going to miss her work ethic and attitude. She was another one like April Thomas who worked hard and is a kid you really don’t want to see go.”