Every season, high school athletes look forward to facing their rivals and mark the dates of those games on their calendars.
For long-time rivals Truman and Martin Luther, this season brought about its own challenge of taking the schools' two boys basketball rosters and putting them together to form one unified program.
For Truman senior post player DaMarko Thomas, the newly formed Truman/Martin Luther BluejayKnight combination might be helping him to his best season on the court yet, including a career-high 28-point game against Cleveland last Friday night.
DELIVERING TWO — Truman/Martin Luther post player DaMarko Thomas scores two points on a layup off a pass from BluejayKnights’ teammate Jeremy Smith (3) during regular-season basketball action in Truman. Thomas has played an integral role in helping the pair of rival basketball teams unite as one program this season. Photo by Leanna Becker
"I didn't really know how many points I was scoring during the game. After a while, I realized I was getting fouled a lot and making a lot of 3-point plays and thought, 'Man, these are really adding up.' It was a pretty good game for me," Thomas said.
The addition of teammates like Martin Luther junior Sam Geistfeld, who also plays post, has given the BluejayKnights a double-edged inside attack.
"It was different at first playing together and being teammates after being rivals, but we knew some of the guys because we'd hang out on weekends," said Thomas.
Coming off a junior season where he averaged 9.7 points and 10 rebounds in 27 games, Thomas was glad to have a little help on the inside.
"I think with the three of us, we make it tough for teams to really defend against our offense. With Cade (Ekstrom) shooting from the outside and both Sam and I on the inside for options, it is tough for teams to stop us," said Thomas.
This season, Thomas has improved upon nearly all of his numbers, averaging 11 boards and scoring 8.4 points per game. The senior also is averaging 65 percent from the free throw line and making 61 percent of his shots from the floor.
"I think having those two guys (Ekstrom and Geistfeld) on the court with me helps. I know that if I can't get my shot off, I can turn around and pass it to one of them for an open look," said Thomas.
After an all-Valley Conference honorable mention effort last season on the strength of an area-high 20 double-double performances, Thomas is hoping to eclipse the 1,000-rebound career mark this season.
"I know that I'm somewhere in the 600 or 700 rebound range, but I'm really working towards reaching that goal," said Thomas.
Thomas has had years of experience handling the basketball inside the lane, and feels right at home both on offense and on defense.
"When I started playing I was pretty tall, but I've also never been able to dribble very well. I like being physical and being inside the lane, which is good considering how badly I dribble," said Thomas. "I really like muscling guys on defense, too. Grabbing rebounds and playing against people taller than me is always a challenge I like."
His inside post moves didn't come naturally to Thomas, who has played basketball since fifth grade, but instead were something he had to develop.
"My friends were playing basketball and asked me to play in fifth grade. I liked it so I kept playing, but it was tough to learn at first. I was always tall, so I've always played inside. When I got to high school, there were a couple older players that really helped me work on my post moves and I now try to do that for younger kids," said Thomas.
With the season winding down, Thomas and the rest of the BluejayKnights are hoping to leave their mark as the first of many Truman/Martin Luther teams.