LOMBARD, ILL. — A priest blessed Daryl Thomas’ ashes with incense as family, friends and more watched in disbelief.
Less than two weeks ago, Thomas, 52, died of a heart attack, and now people he knew throughout his life gathered to honor him in the gym he coached the Montini Catholic High Broncos boys' basketball team.
Some sat in the bleachers, others in chairs placed in rows on the court. Nearly every student wore some sort of spirit wear, and the altar rested under a raised basketball hoop.
“I know that you will always be a part of the Montini family because that never ends,” Montini Catholic Principal Maryann O’Neill told Thomas’ family in front of everyone at the Mass’ conclusion. “The faces might change here, but it never ends. Once you’re a member of this family you’re here for life whether you like it or not.”
Thomas had only been a part of the Chicago-area school’s family since 2015, but it was his final stop on a winding journey fueled by his love for the game of basketball. The high school McDonald’s All-American graduated from Chicago-area power St. Joseph High in 1983 and went from one legendary coach to another, Gene Pingatore to IU’s Bob Knight.
He would graduate a two-time captain and All-Big Ten selection, and a member of the 1987 national championship team — IU’s last to date.
His pass to Keith Smart, who hit a late jumper to push IU past Syracuse in that title game, still draws praise from Knight.
“I've always called that the greatest single play I ever had a kid make: giving up the ball and setting the screen that got the man open for the shot that won a national championship,” Knight said in a statement. “That was Daryl — absolutely unselfish. His attitude and his play on the court are what I always remember about him — that and how really great a kid he was.”
He joined the coaching ranks after a professional career that began with a sixth round selection in the 1987 NBA Draft and took him to Europe and South America. Montini Catholic followed an assistant-coaching stint at St. Joseph.
His style wasn’t too similar to Pignatore’s or Knight’s.
“He was much more calm on the sideline,” Montini Catholic President James Segredo told the IDS a few days before the memorial mass. “He got after a couple officials this year, he got a little frustrated with some of the officiating, which in the past couple years I didn’t see that happen. But, the team was very, very competitive this year.”
He wasn’t a screamer, and would call a timeout if he needed to address anything. That didn't mean he didn’t have a disciplined team.
He challenged his players. He kept them in line. But he did so with respect. His favorite quote, printed on the back of the memorial mass program, said, “Always treat people ‘better’ than they treat you. You will never fail in doing that.”
Thomas served as a guest lecturer in Montini Catholic’s social justice classes.
He preached basketball fundamentals and a team-first mentality. Bob Lozano, head sophomore coach and an assistant on the varsity staff, said during the eulogy that he and Thomas always talked about their desire to make Montini Catholic a respectable program.
Segredo said time has helped Thomas’ players deal with the shock of his death, but some still have blank stares on their faces. Thomas died while the school was on spring break, so it wasn’t till Montini Catholic resumed classes that grief counselors could be made available.
“Daryl, in a short period of time, really built this program up where next year was going to be a great year for us,” Segredo said. “It’s just a shame he won’t be a part of it, physically here with us. His son Kyle is coming in as an incoming freshman so I know he was also looking forward to, down the road, coaching his son here.”
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