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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

New Deal

Fresh Start for Ventura and Guard Isaiah Thomas

November 11, 1999|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — Heads will turn and fingers will point when the public-address announcer calls the name.

Starting at guard for the Ventura College Pirates, No. 33, freshman Isaiah Thomas.

No, not that Thomas. Not the former NBA all-star and now business magnate, the one who spells his first name Isiah.

The other Thomas, the one who played for two high school teams in the region and whose basketball playing the last several months was reduced to men's leagues.

The one who, at 20, is trying to shake off the rust and, like the Pirates, make a new beginning.

"It's a new start for me," Thomas said. "The doors of opportunity open for a certain period of time and this is my opportunity."

Thomas has his left-handed jumper still working well enough to convince Greg Winslow, Ventura's new coach, that the former point guard can switch to shooting guard.

"He's very skilled," Winslow said. "He's a pretty complete player."

Thomas will start at El Camino in a nonconference opener on Saturday at 7 p.m., Ventura's first game since the school disbanded its mens' basketball program after the 1996-97 season.

Ventura, a three-time state champion and perennial power, was stripped of a fourth title won in 1995-96 because of various rules violations.

Enter Winslow, 35, a Ventura native and former Buena High football standout.

He left Ventura in 1984 but returned when the college hired him to resurrect the program.

Winslow is familiar with reclamation projects, turning San Bernardino Valley from a 4-19 disaster three seasons ago into a 25-8 success last season.

He has the sizable task of trying to return the Pirates to their glory days, but he is not concerned about measuring up.

"We have a sense of respect for the past and of the history, but it's all new to us," Winslow said. "We are like an expansion team but with expectations.

"We expect to win. Nobody is going to be more disappointed than me if we lose. The time frame is a question mark."

Thomas can help speed the process.

Thomas started as a freshman at Chatsworth High in 1993-94, helping the Chancellors to the West Valley League championship. Then he ran into academic troubles and bolted for New Jersey to live with an uncle and aunt.

"I was hanging around with the wrong people," Thomas said. "But I don't want to blame it totally on other people. I take responsibility. That's all in the past."

His grades picked up in New Jersey and Thomas returned to the Valley, averaging 11.4 points and 2.1 steals at Van Nuys in 1996-97, his senior season.

Since Thomas didn't qualify academically to attend a four-year school, he took jobs at two athletic clubs, playing basketball in adult leagues. He enrolled at Glendale last year, but didn't play basketball and left the school after one semester.

"They had [state co-player of the year] Tony Hoggatts playing point guard and I thought I'd be better to sit out and still have my full eligibility left," Thomas said. "I just started evaluating my whole situation.

"It's a better situation for me at Ventura. Everything is going OK. I have a 3.0 [grade-point average] and I got an A in my business class."

Thomas plans to make the most of his chance at Ventura.

"Basketball is my love, it's my passion," Thomas said. "God gave me talent, so I have to use it."

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