Steven Thomas was constantly wearing ankle braces when he played for UT Arlington. So much so that his UTA teammates questioned whether he even took them off when he went to bed.
He wore them to every practice, every shoot-around and every game. There was really no sense in taking them off because he spent so much time on the court.
It was that kind of dedication that helped Thomas become one of the greatest players in UTA history while competing for the Mavericks from 2002-06. He's the school's third leading scorer and fourth leading rebounder.
"He was my kind of guy," UTA coach Scott Cross said. "He was tough, he competed, he knew how to play and he had all the intangibles. But the best thing about Steven though, is that he's such a great person. He is one of the most humble human beings around."
Thomas, who played for legendary coach Robert Hughes at Fort Worth Dunbar, played professionally in Iceland after college before returning home and becoming an assistant coach at Fort Worth South Hills.
Thomas was promoted to head coach this past off-season, and is one of four area coaches who played under Hughes at Dunbar.
He has the opportunity to build his own legacy as a coach. Instead of those ankle braces holding him steady, he now leans on the experiences he's been through while playing for coaches who inspired him.
"I was blessed to play for coach Hughes," he said. "One of the key things that he taught me was the ability to motivate people to do things that they normally wouldn't do by themselves -- the ability to light a fire under someone to make themselves better."
Hughes characterized Thomas as being "undersized" in high school , which might be hard to believe considering Thomas is 6-foot-5. But he played against talents such as Chris Bosh (6-11) and Kendrick Perkins (6-10), so it's easy to understand Hughes' perspective.
"He was always called 'The Bruiser,'" Hughes said. "We had guys that thought big, played big and didn't mind the contact. At the time, he was the biggest guy on the team, and he was physical. He wasn't scared."
Thomas was a first-team all-state selection his senior season, averaging 18.2 points and nine rebounds even though he was often matched up against bigger players. It's that kind toughness that Thomas wants to instill in his team, a quality he thinks will help the Scorpions improve on their 4-21 record last season.
"A lot of these kids weren't tough," he said. "They would take the easy way out. One of the key things I did when I took over was put them through some really tough drills that made them lean on each other. They're getting tougher now."
Thomas said his job is about more than X's and O's. For him, being a coach is about bringing out the best in his players and helping them succeed in all aspects of life.
"I try to teach these guys life skills," he said. "Everything I do, there's a lesson behind it. That's something that was taught to me by my coaches. I think that's my purpose for being here. People call us coaches, but we're really teachers. We're really supposed to model and teach these kids how to be men."
Junior Kyle Hickey, the team's leading scorer last season, said he can already see the difference Thomas has made.
"He shows he really cares about us," he said.
Cross said he is proud of what Thomas has accomplished and knows that he has what it takes to not only inspire his players, but also to develop a consistently successful program at South Hills.
"I feel like they're going to run through a brick wall for him," Cross said. "I would if I was a player because I know he is going to have their best interest at heart. He's going to be trying to help them improve and do great things in life. Those kids are going to want to play and fight for him."