By Laurie Gordon SPARTA — The kids can't wait for the fast-approaching, long-anticipated holiday break. The only downside can be that it falls smack in the middle of basketball season, and skills can slip a bit if there's no practice. Consequently, BT Basketball, with clinics for all ages on Dec. 28, is offering the gift of improvement that can be immediately applied to practices and games with the return to school after the new year. “Continuing to keep your skills sharp are vital, not just over break, but throughout the season,” said BT Basketball's owner and founder, Brian Thomas. “As the season wears on, many teams and coaches simply don't have the proper time for effective skill work. Whether it's due to focusing on team concepts, game planning, or simply lack of gym space, skill work is usually the first thing to get axed. Our Holiday Clinic, in addition to our Sunday Skills Clinics, allow you to continue to grow your fundamentals and skill set that you can immediately apply to your team practices and games.”Thomas is more than passionate about the sport of basketball: especially in today's society. “Sports have become more important than ever,” he said. “In today's age of ever expanding technology where parents have to limit screen and video game time, physical activity of any sort needs to be encouraged, and in fact required, in order to allow our youth to set habits for a long and healthy life. Disconnecting from social media and forging new, real relationships is something that basketball, being a team game, is incredible at achieving. Getting kids out of their comfort zones by meeting new people is another opportunity for them to grow and learn how to properly interact and deal with people.” A Sparta resident and native, Thomas played for the legendary Dennis Tobin at Sparta High School. “We were fortunate to have very successful teams during my stay as a three-year starter (including three straight county tournament championships and a 63-12 record),” Thomas said. “Personally, I was able to achieve a measure of success as well (two county tournament MVP’s and 1,000+ points).” Thomas said, “My natural position is point guard due to my lack of height. It also become one of my biggest motivating factors. I knew from an early age that I was going to have to somehow overcome my lack of physical prowess. I developed a hunger and a fire to do just that. I decided that if I couldn’t be as big or as tall as everyone else, I would outwork them instead. I spent my time on the playground, in my driveway, in the gym (at all hours). I studied the game from players better than myself, from coaches who understood the game inside and out. I sought out any bit of information, any drill, that could help me take my game to the next level. I played against players that were bigger, faster, stronger and older than I, because better competition makes for a better player. As I continued on my journey, I picked up many of the same drills that I still teach today. The fundamentals never change. My fierce belief in this still drives me today when I am teaching kids the basics of the game. A foundation built on the rocks of fundamentals has no ceiling and limitless potential. A game built without it is bound for failure and frustration.” Thomas' strong work ethic and love for the game landed him at the University of Rochester where he came in a started as a freshman. In September of his sophomore year, he tore his ACL in his left knee, and there was no choice but to undergo reconstructive surgery and a long, grueling rehab. “It was devastating as it immediately wiped out my entire season before it began,” Thomas said. “Yet I remained determined. I looked at it as a great opportunity to become better, to become stronger. I hit the rehab as hard as I’d ever hit anything in my life. I could not accept this as my basketball fate. Within eight months I was back playing full speed (and I will tell you, grueling is an understatement!). It was a challenge I accepted and faced head on and I was thrilled to be back on the court doing what I loved. There is nothing like a sense of hard earned accomplishment.” Thomas struggled to regain his old basketball self while back playing in his junior year. “For the first time, I wasn’t enjoying the game,” he said. “I didn't quite understand why at the time. I had worked so hard to get back, and I wasn’t quite playing the way I had hoped. I had a decision to make. It got so bad that for a little while I thought about doing something that up to that point had been unthinkable: quitting.”Fortunately, he had a talk with a great friend and a basketball mentor, and cooler heads prevailed. “I had come too far, worked too hard. So I stuck with it.”The following off-season, Thomas took his workouts to an entirely different level becioming more athletic, more skilled, and regaining his passion and strength. He was playing the best basketball of his life. The season started out great, he was a captain now and continued playing well through the first week of January and then... it happened. “This time during a game, I cut backdoor and snap… I lay in a heap on the floor, knowing that I just tore the ACL in the OTHER knee. Unfortunately, I was now a senior and this would most likely be my last game. Or would it. Heck no it wouldn’t. Since I missed my entire sophomore season with my first knee, I had an additional year of eligibility left. So here we go again, back under the knife, back to the rehab. Yet this time it was different. I was able to take my first experience with this and improve on it. I knew what to expect. I knew what to do differently. I knew it would be my last year ever to play the game I love. Nothing would hold me back this time. In only six months, I was back on the court. I decided this time I would not wear any type of knee brace at all (this was the biggest key for me in getting my game back faster than last time. I had no physical crutch, therefore, I had no mental crutch). The next season came around and not only did we make the NCAA Tournament, but I was named All-League.”Recovery from two injuuries and rising to his full collegiate potential underscore Thomas' passion for the game. Since then, he has I coached with countless programs including Montclair State University, Sparta High School, and St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark (a national powerhouse). He has individually trained hundreds of kids of all ages for over 15 years. I believe that hard work, dedication, and encouragement are the keys to success on the basketball court. “It is a true passion of mine to take what I have learned from my experiences in order to help others reach and surpass their expectations.”Thomas said the biggest joy he gets as a coach is, “when the light bulb goes on.” He explained, “When kids work and work and work and then suddenly - BOOM - they got it. The smile pops on their face and their game goes to a new level. It's awesome to watch that process of failure leading to success. We encourage failure and explain it's necessity in order to achieve goals. There is so much satisfaction from encouraging kids and convincing them that they can be more, that they are more. That doing the work allows them to believe in themselves more, both on and off the basketball court. Forging relationships and watching young people grow into young adults, having a very small part in the process, is immensely rewarding and something that we don't take for granted. It's not ultimately about wins and losses, it's about growth and adding tools that these young people can use to find their way to a successful, well rounded life.”Thomas added, “I have always believed that sports, basketball especially, is a metaphor for life. There are so many parallel lessons that interlock with one another. In addition, the game of basketball can provide a joy that doesn't have to end once you "grow up". It's a passion and love that can be with you, and your loved ones, for a lifetime."Clinics on Thursday, December 28 will be as follows: first through fifth grade boys and girls – 10 am to 11:30 am and sixth through eighth grade boys and girls- 11:30 am to 1 pm. To reserve your spot, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information about Sunday clinics and BT Basketball's summer camp, visit BrianThomasBasketBall.com. All clinics and camps are held at the Sparta PAL Building adjacent to the Sparta Train Station and Station Park.