Ohio Dominican women's basketball coach Lynsey Warren's memories of Emily Thomas kept circling back to a particular quality.
"The word 'sacrifice' comes to mind," Warren said of Thomas, a 2015 graduate of Pickerington North who recently concluded a college career beset by injuries that began in North Carolina but ended in her hometown. "She constantly put her body on the floor. She always wanted to set a tone. Emily played the role best suited for the team and that's how she always wanted it."
After playing her freshman and sophomore seasons at UNC-Wilmington and nearly giving up the game out of frustration, the 5-foot-6 point guard transferred to Ohio Dominican and found her place, although her role varied. Thomas started 20 of 43 games as a junior and senior, although as was the case in her high school career, injuries interrupted her plans.
She tore her right ACL -- for the third time -- after her junior season and missed all of what would have been her senior season but was granted a fifth year of eligibility. She injured her left shoulder while at UNC-Wilmington and her right shoulder earlier this year, forcing her to miss seven games from Jan. 4 to Feb. 6, and rolled an ankle last summer and missed more than two months of preparation for this past season.
"I've been through a lot more than most people have gone through to get to this point," said Thomas, who also missed most of her junior season and all of her senior year at North because of two tears of her right ACL and a meniscus tear in the same knee. "I wanted to push through and try and finish what I started. I always wanted to be consistent and be a leader no matter where I was."
Thomas, who recalled that her most recent ACL tear caused her to miss 648 days of action, was injured after her best collegiate season. She averaged 8.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists as a junior and scored a career-high 28 points Jan. 18, 2018, against Ursuline.
"You couldn't bring her off the floor," Warren said. "She really got back to loving the game. With transfers, you anticipate there's going to be that acclimation period getting to know the program, getting to know your teammates and the school. She handled it so well. It can be frustrating. ...
"Even when she was on the sideline, she was still Emily. She communicated and gave of herself however she could. She just isn't a player who can limit herself on or off the court."
Thomas admitted a rough two years at UNC-Wilmington, in which she started just four of 36 games and saw her playing time and statistics decrease across the board her sophomore season, almost pushed her to give up basketball and take classes at Ohio State while living at home.
"(Basketball) had been her life since she was born. I told her she'd regret it for the rest of her life if she made a decision too quickly," said Thomas' mother, Sherri, who played softball at Ohio State in the early 1990s. "She would have been OK (without basketball), but she's so driven and motivated that I thought she would regret not continuing to play. It didn't take that long to convince her."
Nor did it take Thomas long to make a decision once she and her family visited Ohio Dominican.
"I felt very comfortable right away," she said. "(Warren) allowed me to play how I play. She let me be me. I didn't have to worry about being pulled off the floor if I made one mistake. That is huge for a player."
Thomas started 10 of 22 games this past season, averaging 2.6 points, 1.3 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 0.5 steals.
Thomas earned her undergraduate degree in criminal justice and will finish her master's degree in sports management this spring. After graduation, she will move to Memphis, Tennessee, to be an assistant coach at Christian Brothers, which, like Ohio Dominican, is a Division II Catholic school.
Former Ohio Dominican assistant Jessie Carmack recently completed her first season as the Buccaneers' head coach.
Despite having been a point guard and a vocal leader, Thomas said she hadn't considered a future in coaching until the past few months.
"Then this chance came along," she said. "It's going to be a different challenge. I'm excited."