Forever linked in the memories of Russellville- in fact, regional- basketball fans, T.C. Thomason and Orlando Woodard appropriately announced their choices of colleges on successive days this week.
The two schools, Centre College and Kentucky State University, are located in Central Kentucky, not very far apart.
They have been teammates throughout middle school and high school. Leaders of very successful teams at RHS, they have helped the Panthers win the 13th District Tournament the last two years and make the team a regional contender. Both were honorable mention all-state this year and first team all-regional. They both played for the Kentucky Nike HoopStars under Eddie Ford last summer.
Thomason, at slightly over 6'2", was officially the point guard and Woodard, at almost 6'6", the center, but both are capable of playing inside or out in a basketball lineup.
Both have great athletic bloodlines.
Woodard's mother Grace was the first star when girls basketball resumed in Logan County in 1975. She maintained that status for four years and later played collegiately at Kentucky Wesleyan College. His dad was a good basketball player at Todd County Central.
Woodard's aunt, Lillie Mason, was an All-American at Western Kentucky University, a two-time NCAA regional most valuable player. His uncle, Clarence Mason, starred at Vol State Community College and Austin Peay State University. His cousin, Henry Jones, was the quick guard on Logan County's state championship team in 1984. His brother, Anthony 'B.A.' Woodard, was the point guard on Russellville's first-ever state tournament basketball team.
Thomason's parents were both state champions at LCHS. Mom Teresa was a member of a record-setting 440-yard relay team. Dad Tim was the shooting guard for the 1984 Cougars and will always be remembered as one of the best pure shooters ever around here.
They both enjoy great support from their families. Whenever the Panthers played, a good portion of the seating went to Thomasons, Washers, Flowerses, Masons, Woodards, etc.
Polly Thomason was present for T.C.'s official signing with Centre College Tuesday. She doesn't think she's ever missed one of her grandson's games, from tee ball on up. (Thomason has been a starter in baseball for the Panthers throughout high school, too.) Most of those games are on video tape. Her husband Leslie- T.C.'s grandfather- is usually by her side, and are his aunt, Sheila Thomason Washer, and her family.
"The only thing that bothers me about his going to Centre is that I'm going to miss some games," Polly Thomason said.
Centre is located in Danville, not far from Lexington. Academically, it's one of the most highly regarded small, private colleges in the nation. T.C. should fit in. He's taking a 3.82 grade point average and a 27 on his ACT with him. "I'm going to a school that's so good academically that a degree from there means something," he said.
Coach Greg Mason, a former Centre player who has coached his alma mater the last six years, was present for the signing. He said the Colonels went 20-7 last year, their first 20-win season since 1989. They return four starters and eight of the top nine players.
"One thing I like about T.C. is that he just turned 18. He already has a good skill level. I think he's going to get a lot stronger as he gets older," Mason said.
Centre plays on the NCAA Division III level in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference. Trinity of Texas is the dominant team in the league. Depaw is well-known. The closest rode trips for Thomason's family will be in Tennessee to Rhodes College in Memphis and Sewanee near Chattanooga.
Two area coaches helped make this happen. Tim Riley, whose Warren Central team has stood in the way of the Panthers returning to state (T.C.'s sparkling performance in the regional semifinals in '04 against the eventual state champions may have been his best game ever) told Tim Thomason late this season that Centre or Transylvania would be a good fit for T.C.
Franklin-Simpson football coach and athletic director Tim Schlosser, whose brother-in-law played for Centre, contacted the college's coaching staff about Thomason.
"I'm proud of T.C. and happy that he's getting the opportunity to continue playing basketball at a school with the academic reputation of Centre," Tim Thomason said. "We could never have afforded to send him there on our own and this is a wonderful opportunity." His mother echoed those sentiments.
n Orlando Woodard also takes good grades with him to Kentucky State University, which is located in Frankfort. He has already qualified to play college ball with his ACT. Woodard wants to major in civil engineering.
He's not sure which coach told the Thoroughbred coaching staff about him, but an assistant coach came to watch him play for the Kentucky All-Stars against the Ohio All-Stars in April, and they liked what they saw.
Then, Head Coach Tom Patterson made the offer for Woodard to play at the NCAA Division II school, which plays in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Orlando and Grace Woodard visited the campus and were pleased with what they found.
A highlight for Kentucky State last year was coming to Bowling Green to play the Division I Hilltoppers.
Winning those district championships are Orlando's favorite memories of his high school career. In fact, he says his performance against Franklin-Simpson in this year's finals- in which he rose above regional player of the year Matt Morris- may have been his best game ever, although he scored 34 points once in a game against Fort Campbell.
Woodard also played some football and baseball at RHS, but basketball was always his sport.
"I'm proud of him. I hope he goes all the way and does his best in college," Mom says.
Orlando adds, "I have had a great four years here in basketball, and I hope I can continue that at K-State."