Kevin Thomas moved to Arizona two years ago for his wife's career while finishing studies online for a master's degree in educational leadership.
He chose to take a history teaching job at Millennium High School in Goodyear because of the school's educational reputation and campus culture. Then the former basketball player and coach was pleasantly surprised to find a basketball interest level and coaching culture similar to his Northwest Indiana home.
Then he got to watch the boys and girls Tigers play some games and realized he was not in Crown Point anymore.
"The programs at Millennium were at a similar level as where I coached, but the level of athletes in these programs was extremely high," Thomas said.
Now the former all-conference Division II player and nine-year high school boys basketball assistant at Crown Point takes the reins of one of those talent-laden powerhouses - the Millennium girls squad.
Athletic director Remigio Gordillo announced Thomas' hire Tuesday. He replaces another teacher in the social studies department, Cory Rojeck who led the Lady Tigers to two state titles and four finals appearances in 11 transformational years as Millennium's coach.
"We were in competition with some other schools and districts two years ago just to hire (Thomas) as a teacher," Gordillo said. "Crown Pointe is in one of the elite conferences in Indiana. Basketball is kind of in his DNA. It's like hitting the lottery having someone with those skills and background around."
Gordillo said Rojeck let him know a bit before the end of the season that he and his family planned to move back to Ohio to be closer with his relatives.
During the last two years, Thomas said he has talked shop several times with Millennium boys coach Ty Amundsen as well as with department mate Rojeck.
He finished master's degree studies in February and was looking for a coaching return when a top job opened at his new home.
"One of the first questions when I finished was could I get involved in one of these programs - thinking it probably would be as an assistant," Thomas said. "I work with Cory in social studies and would talk hoops with him. So I had a good feel for what we're all about. We have a lot of similar philosophies. A lot of things they were doing defensively are very similar to what we did at Crown Pointe. I'm not coming in to blow it up."
Gordillo said his week-long search and interview was not limited to the campus or the Valley, but Millennium lucked out that "by far the most qualified candidate," was already on campus.
And the program will have more continuity coming off two straight 5A titles. Lead assistant Tamika Stukes has been on staff longer than Rojeck and will remain in her role after serving on the school's hiring committee.
"Coach Tamika would be a phenomenal coach. But she did not have an interest in being a head coach," Gordillo said.
Thomas said in addition to Stukes, varsity assistant Joe Lee may remain on board if he has enough time available outside of his work schedule.
He said he also has hired Brooklynn Hinkens as junior varsity coach, and former Sunrise Mountain boys JV coach Charles Wilson as Millennium freshman girls coach.
Stukes is the linchpin, Thomas said.
"That was the most important person for me to connect with once everything was settled. She keeps our connectivity and comfortability. And she has a vast coaching background and experience," Thomas said.
Thomas has been in that role, after graduating from the University of Purdue-Northwestern in 2011. Crown Point coach Clint Swan hired the prolific forward to his staff.
Swan has won more than 300 games in more than 20 years as a head coach.
"Coach Swan has a great rep in Indiana so I was lucky to get a chance to learn under him. It became like a road show, the level of scouting and expectations of coaching was really high," Thomas said.
Crown Point, he said, has around 2,800 students. He said Valparaiso is his former school's main rival, but the intensity remains for most of the other region games.
He noticed few similarities in most of Millennium's girls games. But the Tigers' showdown with Valley Vista reminded him of two Indiana rivals who know each other inside and out.
"It's low-scoring and gritty. It reminds me of home," Thomas said.