CHARLESTON — For Hank Thomas, it was the second time in his career that he was able to look up and see his dad's name and number hanging from the ceiling at Lantz Arena.
Two years ago when Hank was a sophomore, the Eureka College men's basketball team played an exhibition game at Eastern Illinois. It was a bit surreal for Hank. His dad, Charlie, is a member of EIU's All-Century team and is eighth all-time in the program's history with 1,452 points. A sign of Charlie's No. 20 jersey with his name and the years that he played (1975-78) are hanging at Lantz Arena along with the other members of EIU's All-Century team.
Hank experienced the same feeling last Friday. Hank had a breakout sophomore season, averaging 14.5 points per game that season. Last year Thomas averaged 17.4 points per game. So on Friday when he looked up at Charlie's jersey, who was in attendance that night along with Eureka's game two years ago, he shared something in common with his dad. Both have scored 1,000 points in their careers.
Each time Hank has played at Lantz Arena, he's had a fun time.
"I am very grateful that coach (Chip) Wilde let us play here two times. Seeing his jersey up there is iconic. You don't see that anywhere," Hank Thomas said. "It's just crazy when I am here warming up and I see his jersey up there. I can't believe I got to play here twice on the same court he played on. That's crazy."
Charlie wore No. 20 at EIU and Thomas wears No. 20 at Eureka to honor his father.
Charlie said it was fun to see his son play in the same gym that he did and it's always fun to be back at Lantz Arena.
"I love coming here. Coach (Jay) Spoonhour has been great. Obviously I wanted Hank to come here but he's 5-8. He can shoot it out of the gym and the next best thing is to see him play on this court with someone," said Charlie, who is a member of EIU's Hall of Fame. "I had so many great times here. This gym was packed when I was here. We had great years. It was incredible to come here on a game night."
The two have a bit of a friendly competition going on now. Hank is only about 450 points away from Charlie's all-time career points mark (1,452). Charlie scored 573 points his senior year at EIU. Hank wants to either match that or surpass that total.
"He's already over 1,000 and he wants to break my record," said Charlie, who still holds EIU's record for most consecutive free throws with 54.
Last year Hank scored 435 points so he would need to up his scoring to reach 573 points this season. Eureka could be leaning on Hank even more this season since he's the top returning scorer for the team.
"That's my goal. Winning is first but as far as personal stuff, I want to say I beat him," Thomas said with a chuckle. "He taught me how to shoot. Since I was 6 years old, we would go outside and he had me doing left-handed layups. That's why when I go to my left, I am pulling up or going to the rack. I am very comfortable going left. I am grateful for him because he teaches me daily."
Hank started beating his dad in one-on-one when he was in high school. The two will play some recreational league games together in Peoria and Hank said it's fun to see his dad make three-pointers against some of the younger players.
"He goes out there Monday, Wednesday and Friday to play and I go out there with him and that's fun. He will stand at the three-point line and make three's and I will dish it to him," Hank Thomas said. "The older guys know who he is. The younger guys will let him shoot it because he's an old guy and he drains it every time. It's definitely fun."
Hank wasn't blessed with the same height Charlie had. Hank is 5-8, which scared off some colleges. Eureka gave Hank, who is a Peoria Richwoods High School graduate, a chance and he's rewarded them every season.
"I feel like if I was 6-1, 6-2, it would be that much easier. But knowing how much I have to work to get that bucket, I have to work harder than those guys. Everybody that's out here, I have to work harder than to get a bucket because of my size," Hank Thomas said. "I am not going up and dunking on anyone. I have to make a lot of pull-up jumpers and I like setting my teammates up, too."
Hank did get invited to do a Pro-Am in Clearwater, Florida, after the season.
"I am very thankful for that to see if I can play overseas," Hank said. "I am definitely looking forward to that opportunity."