Former Hoosier Daryl Thomas dies from heart attack

Daryl Thomas, a member of Indiana’s 1987 national championship team, died Wednesday of a heart attack.

The former Hoosier was working as the boys basketball coach at Montini Catholic in Lombard, Ill., where he’d been since 2015. He was 52 years old.

“The Indiana men’s basketball family is devastated to learn of the passing of 1987 National Champion Daryl Thomas,” read a statement from IU. “Our prayers go out to his family, friends, teammates and coaches and all others who he had an impact on throughout his life.”

The 6-foot-7 forward played for IU from 1983 to 1987, averaging 10.3 points and 3.9 rebounds during his four-year career. Thomas served as a two-time captain and earned All-Big Ten First Team recognition as a senior, helping the Hoosiers to their fifth national championship.

It was a memorable senior year for Thomas, whose 15.7 points per game were second on the team to Steve Alford’s 22.0.

“It’s a very sad day with the loss of such a great teammate in Daryl,” Alford said in a statement. “He was such a terrific person. I feel incredibly blessed to have been Daryl’s teammate and to call him my friend. His family is certainly in my prayers during this difficult time.”

A key figure in the 1987 national title game against Syracuse, Thomas scored 20 points and had seven rebounds and assisted on Keith Smart’s game-winning shot to beat the Orangemen.

While Smart’s shot is an iconic moment in college basketball lore, former Indiana coach Bob Knight often felt Thomas’ pass to set it up went overlooked.

Leading 73-72 in the final moments, Syracuse was determined to prevent Alford from getting a good look. Smart passed to Thomas, who immediately met 6-foot-11 Syracuse big man Derrick Coleman.

Rather than attempt a shot over Coleman, Thomas turned, dribbled once and kicked out to Smart, whose jumper sank Syracuse with five seconds left.

“It was a no-brainer for me to make that pass,” Thomas told The Herald-Times in a 2009 interview. “I made the turn, shot-faked, and Coleman didn’t budge. I saw Keith coming, so it was natural for me to kick it out.”

Knight said he’ll never forget the unselfishness Thomas displayed in that moment.

“Ever since that 1987 championship game, I’ve always called that the greatest single play I ever had a kid make: giving up the ball and setting the screen that got the man open for the shot that won a national championship,” Knight said in a statement. “That was Daryl — absolutely unselfish.

“His attitude and his play on the court are what I always remember about him — that and how really great a kid he was. He had wonderful parents. I just feel sick about hearing this and very bad for his family, his team and everyone around him.”

Thomas endeared himself to teammates through his approach and versatility, playing out of position during his junior year when the Hoosiers needed a center.

Thomas didn’t seem to mind.

“He was a guy that would do whatever he was asked,” longtime IU play-by-play man Don Fischer said. “He never complained. He busted his tail all the time. You could just tell he was working as hard as he could to do what the coaches were asking him to do. … The other thing about Daryl was that he had a great personality. He was a nice guy, one of those people that I would bet you that you couldn’t find a single guy on the team that didn’t think he was a great teammate.”

A good example could be seen throughout the 1986-87 season.

When Dean Garrett joined Indiana’s program prior to that season season, Thomas turned the center position over to the junior college transfer and moved to power forward. All the while, Thomas took on a mentoring role with Garrett, helping him navigate his new role in the Big Ten.

“He really helped Dean through that season,” former Herald-Times sports editor Bob Hammel said. “His role on that team was as much an advisor as it was a player. He really helped Garrett.”

The Sacramento Kings selected Thomas in the sixth round of the 1987 NBA Draft, and although he didn’t stick in the league, he played more than a decade overseas with stops in England — where he was once the most valuable player of the British Basketball League — and Poland.

“Daryl Thomas was truly one of the great players in IU history, as well as one of the greatest people and teammates I’ve ever known,” former IU player and coach Dan Dakich said in a statement. “It is so incredibly sad that a person who gave so much joy to others had to pass so young.”

IU coach Archie Miller also tweeted his condolences.

“Saddened to hear of the passing of Hoosier legend and National Champion Daryl Thomas,”Miller said. “Beloved by his teammates and coaches, our prayers go out to his wife Marta, his children, and the Montini Catholic HS community he served.”

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