In the conference room of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School library, senior Zechary Thomas signs his letter of commitment to accept a full-ride scholarship to play college basketball and study kinesiology at Fort Scott College. The commitment represents the first step toward realizing his lifelong dream to play in the NBA and pursue a career as an athletic trainer.
Getting to this point wasn’t easy for the Mustang stand-out point guard who played football until a severe concussion convinced him that basketball was a better fit. “Zack never picked up a basketball until he was 13,” says proud mom Gina Grant Thomas. “He came to me and his dad and said his dream was to play college basketball. We told him that if his grades were there and if he put in the hard work every day, we would back him.”
Zack’s basketball career got off to a rocky start. A member of successful JV teams, as a junior Zack found himself benched. “My old coach told me I couldn’t dribble, and I couldn’t shoot. He said he didn’t feel I could go to college and play basketball, and I took that to heart,” Thomas remembers.
Just when it seemed his dream of college and basketball was slipping away, he says those comments fueled a fire in him that motivated him to work harder on and off the court. Zack spent the summer of 2017 playing AAU basketball with Dallas Showtyme, a program that provides talented young athletes the opportunity to hone their skills outside their school basketball programs. Showtyme sponsored local and national tournaments that matched the promising athletes against some of the nation’s best players. It was on the summer courts that Zack would meet and play with future Roosevelt teammates DeMarcus Fisher and Gregory Roberts. “Zack played with us for one year, but we knew he had what it takes the first time he stepped on the court,” said Showtyme director Erven S. Davis, a proud member of the Roosevelt Class of 1968.
That summer the Thomas family moved to Oak Cliff giving Zack the opportunity to reset his hoop dreams on the hallowed courts of Roosevelt High School, fondly known by alumni as Velt. On the same courts that produced college basketball legends Ira Terrell and Carl Wright, Zack found a new home. He and teammates Fisher and Roberts proved to be a dominant force, boosting Roosevelt to the top of state basketball rankings for the first time in more than a decade.
“The work ethic at Roosevelt was much different from my old school,” Thomas said. “There was a sense of competition. And the teachers at Roosevelt pushed me to be the best and told me I could go to college. My teammates, who are like my brothers, challenged me, made me grow and took me to new levels on and off the court.” Thomas credits Mustang coaches Marco Barnes and Joe Stafford with using basketball as a platform to build the leadership skills necessary for success in college and life.
“Once Zack moved to Roosevelt he blossomed,” said Showtyme’s Davis. “He went from being a kid with no place to play to a leader both on and off the court. Playing for Velt made him ready to play on the college level and beyond.”
“The whole Roosevelt family just took Zack in,” shares his dad, Arthur Thomas. “I wish Zack could have spent all fours years here. They care about these kids. Roosevelt is a great school; it’s a family.” Though their son has now joined the ranks of the school’s alumni, the Thomases say they will continue to support the students at Roosevelt, helping other Mustangs achieve their dreams. “We’re proud to say our son graduated from Roosevelt High School.”
Asked why a rising ninth-grader should choose Roosevelt, Zack called his alma mater the perfect place. “There’s a lot of history at Velt, and you get to be a part of writing that next chapter.” Thomas touts the senior portfolio project with giving Mustangs a competitive edge. The project requires seniors to craft a resume, create a visual biography, apply for twenty-four scholarships, submit four college applications, and complete sixty community service hours. “The teachers and counselors give you everything you need to help you get into college or be ready for a career. Roosevelt is a place where you can grow up and learn to man up. Velt will take you anywhere you want to go.”