Ike Thornton, who guided the Sam Houston boys basketball team to the state tournament this year, is leaving the Hurricanes after seven seasons to become boys basketball coach at Smithson Valley.

Thornton met his new players Tuesday and later visited with members of the Smithson Valley community at a reception on campus. Thornton, 51, will finish the semester at Sam Houston, Smithson Valley athletic coordinator Larry Hill said.

Thornton applied for the Smithson Valley job seven years ago, but the position went to R.J. Strauch. Thornton was hired at Sam Houston that same year after longtime coach Wayne Dickey resigned. Strauchstepped downthis year after seven seasons at Smithson Valley.

I'm super excited about this opportunity, Thornton said Tuesday night. I got a chance today during the athletic period to see how the kids work and how they respond to coaching. I came away even more excited, just because of how hard they worked.

Toughness is toughness. Some kids are tough because they have a chip on their shoulder because they don't have what others have. Some kids are tough because they've been challenged to work hard, and they earn whatever they're going to get. I think the situation at Smithson Valley is that the expectation is you work your tail off.

Thornton went 152-63 and led Sam Houston to the Region IV-3A tournament in each of his last four seasons. Five of Thornton's seven teams won at least 20 games, and the Hurricanes were undefeated in district play in each of their last three seasons under Thornton.

The 2013-14 Hurricanes routed Corpus Christi West Oso in the regional final to earn a berth in the state tournament for the first time since 2005. Sam Houston lost to Dallas Madison 77-62 in the 3A state semifinals, finishing 27-10.

'Sam,' asSamHouston is affectionally called by its alumni andpeople in the school's community,made the regional final last year and fell in the regional semifinals in 2011 and 2012.

Thornton's son, Myles, a junior guard for the Hurricanes last season, will transfer to Smithson Valley.

Thornton coached in Ohio before returning to S.A.

Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Thornton played on UTSA's first four basketball teams (1981-85) before returning to his hometown to work in the banking business.

Thornton changed careers in the mid-1990s and was head basketball coach at Trotwood High School, just outside Dayton, going 62-28 in four seasons. He returned to San Antonio in 2006 after his wife, Kimberly, got a job at St. Mary's University.

Thornton, who was a volunteer assistant coach under Dickey for one season before succeeding him, spoke highly of the players he coached at Sam Houston and the student body in general.

I've never been the type of coach who felt I had everything to teach my players and nothing to learn from them, Thornton said. I've learned a tremendous amount from the students at Sam Houston.

The Hurricanes adopted a South African term -- Ubuntu -- as their rallying cry about three years ago. Coach Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics used Ubuntu as their mantra when they won the NBA championship in 2008.

It means 'I am because we are,' Thornton said. There are experiences I've had with the kids at Sam Houston that I'll take with me. They are part of me and they are part of who I am. Some of the tough decisions I had to make, I grew from those decisions.

I didn't make all the right decisions, but I learned and grew from the experiences. I wouldn't trade my time at Sam Houston for anything in the world. For one, I have a great deal of respect for Coach Dickey and the job that he did at Sam Houston on and off the court. To me, I never looked at it as though I was following behind a great coach. I just tried to do the best job I could do.

Thornton's hiring makes him the first African American head coach in the history of Smithson Valley High School, which has a predominantly white enrollment. Thornton said leaving Sam Houston was not easy.

My concern initially was that I didn't want them (Sam Houston players) feeling like here comes another African American man letting me down again, Thornton said. It was difficult. When you work with inner-city kids, you learn they have a resilience that comes from their survival skills. I think they realized it was an opportunity for me, and they respected the fact I made that decision.

Hill on Thornton: 'He's good any way you turn him'

Although Smithson Valley has won only three district games each of the last two seasons, Thornton expressed confidence the Rangers can become consistent winners in basketball. Smithson Valley has finished 17-16, 18-16 and 17-16 the past three years.

They've had success in football, baseball, softball, track, cross country, Thornton said. It's kind of ingrained and embedded in the fiber of the community, so I don't see why that same level of success can't occur on the basketball court.

Thornton spent most of his visit at Smithson Valley with Hill, who also heads the Rangers' highly successful football program.

He's such a respected and knowledgeable coach that it was great to share our different experiences, Thornton said. I'm looking forward to not only being a basketball coach and a teacher at the school, but having the opportunity to be around great people. I'm looking forward to learning some things from observing Coach Hill's program.

Hill praised Thornton as a coach and mentor.

He's good any way you turn him, Hill said. You want guys coaching your community's kids who are high-character guys. You want guys who are great role models for your kids. You want guys who are demanding, yet compassionate. You want guys that you're going to want your kids to be under their guidance.

At the same time, you want to win games. Ike is all those things I got through saying, by everybody's account, and he's got a proven track record on the court as well. You're not sacrificing any one of those things to get the others. He's pretty impeccable in all those things, so we're excited to have him.

Garza: Thornton helped players become men

Gil Garza, athletic director of the San Antonio Independent School District, also was complimentary of Thornton and his contributions to Sam Houston.

Ike's done a great job, Garza said. When Coach Dickey retired and left the legacy that he did, we had to find a special coach to come in and continue what was built. Coach Thornton did that. His success speaks for itself. To make it to the state tournament this year with one senior tells you a lot about what kind of coach he is.

He made a big difference at Sam Houston and now the challenge is to find someone who is going to keep that legacy going. Replacing Coach Dickey was pressure, but then continuing the legacy under the scrutiny he was under is quite an accomplishment. He had a plan and he just stuck with it.

Garza also spoke about Thornton's qualities as a mentor.

I think that he recognized that in order for us to move forward, he was going to have to make sure the kids were disciplined, that there was some structure and organization, that was there was a plan, he said. At the end of the day, he was there more to help kids become better men than he was to make them better basketball players.

He was always big on team. He never sought the limelight and he didn't like individuals who tried to showcase themselves. He was all about team, all about togetherness and doing things right. He's a very quiet guy. He just let his work speak for itself. There's no doubt that the Sam Houston community and our school district are going to miss him.

Garza said that he hopes to have Thornton's successor hired by mid-June.
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