Aki Thomas enters his fourth year as head coach of the UMBC men’s basketball program, earning the permanent title on the eve of the 2013 America East Tournament. Thomas served as acting head coach since Oct. 10, 2012 after five previous seasons as a Retrievers’ assistant coach.
After a promising 2013-14 season, Coach Thomas and his staff had high expectations last winter. But America East Rookie of the Year Rodney Elliott suffered a season-ending injury in the second half of the first game and the team that the staff put together in the off-season and pre-season never materialized. The Retrievers battled all season long, but could not overcome the loss of other key players for long stretches of time and put numbers in win column.
There were many encouraging signs for UMBC as Coach Thomas and his staff look ahead. Post Cody Joyce earned America East Second Team honors and gives the Retrievers a solid presence inside as the Retrievers rebuild their front court. A pair of freshman guards, Jourdan Grant and Malcolm Brent, logged many productive minutes and Grant was tabbed to several All-Rookie teams by various publications. Moreover, the staff brought in a deep and talented group of new Retrievers, many of whom are expected to immediately impact the program.
The tough 2014-15 campaign temporarily slowed Coach Thomas' building of the program. In February of 2014, UMBC defeated eventual America East champion Albany to secure its ninth victory, the most for a Retriever side since the 2008-09 team won 15 games. The Retrievers also played a school-record five overtime contests, tying an NCAA Division I mark by playing four consecutively, and could have easily entered America East play at or better with a .500 mark or better.
The Retrievers also did a much better job of protecting its home court in 2013-14, posting an 8-5 record at home. Defensively, UMBC led the America East Conference in steals and fell just 12 steals short of setting a new single-season school record.
In 2012-13, despite losing three post players due to injury, Coach Thomas and his staff led the cohesive Retrievers to a victory over third-seeded Hartford in the quarterfinals of the league championships, and led Vermont for much of the first 32 minutes of play before bowing in the semis. Despite the loss of the primary interior presence of their defense, the Retrievers allowed five less points per game (71.5) than they did in the previous season.
Off the court, Thomas and his staff bolstered the hopes for the future by bringing in a strong, locally-based recruiting class for the 2013-14 campaign. It immediately bore fruit, led by 2013-14 America East Rookie of the Year Rodney Elliott.
Thomas, now age 36, was the 11th-youngest NCAA Division I head coach in the nation in 2012-13.
“I want to thank UMBC for allowing me the privilege to continue leading its basketball program,” Thomas said in October of 2012. “I would like to give special thanks to President Hrabowski, Dr. Brown, Dr. Young and I would like to convey my appreciation for all of the support I've received from my colleagues during the year.
Thomas came to UMBC in the summer of 2007 and has been a member of the Retriever coaching staff for eight seasons. The New York, N.Y. native was also serving as the staff’s recruiting coordinator.
He had previously worked as an assistant coach at Howard University from 2004-07.
Thomas played professionally in Venezuela before accepting the position at Howard under then-head coach Frankie Allen. Prior to that, Thomas was a standout for the Bison in 2000-01, when he helped lead the team to an 18-13 mark and the finals of the MEAC Tournament. Thomas averaged almost 12 points and eight rebounds per game en route to being named to the All-MEAC second team.
Before Howard, Thomas played for three seasons at the University of Colorado. His tenure with the Buffaloes was highlighted by a selection to the All-Tournament Team of the 1998 Puerto Rico Shootout. He was a member of a pair of CU teams which earned berths to the NIT, and he was selected to the Commissioner’s Big 12 All-Academic Team.
Thomas was a two-time league rebounding champion in the Venezuelan LPB League (2003-04) and earned the same title during a stint in the Colombian Federation Cup League (2004). He played his prep ball at New York city’s Manhattan Center, where he was selected All-City his junior and senior seasons. He was also named Manhattan PSAL Player of the Year and Honorable Mention All-America during his senior campaign.
Thomas received his degree in sociology from Howard in 2002. He married the former Gayna Lacy in 2009 and the couple welcomed a son, Lexington Luther in September of 2011. The Thomases reside in Greenbelt, Md.