Legendary Missouri State University men’s basketball player and coach Bill Thomas, will join a class of six inductees this March into the Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame, the league announced today (Aug. 7).
A native of Buffalo, Mo., Thomas enters the Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame as the 15th honoree in The Valley’s Lifetime Achievement category. The Lifetime Achievement category honors, when appropriate, former players, coaches, administrators or alumni who competed, worked or attended a current league school.
Joining Thomas at the March 4, 2016 induction ceremony at St. Louis’ Peabody Opera House will be Jerry Harkness of Loyola; Bradley’s Anthony Parker; Dave Bergman of Illinois State; Evansville’s Mick Lyon; and Sue Daggett Miller of Illinois State. The ceremony, which has become an annual part of the MVC’s Arch Madness activities, will begin with a breakfast at 8 a.m.
Thomas was a three-year starter at the guard position for the Bears after he came to the Springfield campus in 1950 as a transfer from Westminster College.
The 1951 Bears were the MIAA conference runners-up and went on to win league titles the next two seasons. Each of those Bears clubs went through district NAIA playoffs and a grueling five-game endurance test in the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City to emerge as the first back-to-back national champions in 1952 and 1953.
Thomas was a two-time all-conference selection and gained NAIA All-America honors in 1953.
He returned to Missouri State as an assistant coach in 1956 under Eddie Matthews and was on the coaching staff in 1959 when the Bears finished as an NCAA Division II national runner-up.
Thomas became the head coach of the Bears in 1964 when Matthews passed away, and over the next 16 seasons directed Missouri State to eight MIAA basketball titles, more than any other coach in league history.
The Bears won or tied for the conference championship five years in a row from 1966 to 1970 and finished second in the NCAA Division II tournament in 1967, 1969 and 1974.
Thomas compiled a 16-year coaching mark of 265 wins and 158 losses, twice was honored as District Coach of the Year and in 1974 was named the College Division National Coach of the Year by the NABC.
He has been inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame (1990), Missouri State Athletics Hall of Fame (1980), and the Springfield Area Sports Hall of Fame (1990). Thomas currently resides in Springfield.
Story: Missouri State Athletics