When she’s not rubbing off a screen, she’s screening passengers. When not picking up her teammates with a solid season, she’s picking up her kids and making sure they are taken care of. Such is the life of Sammeika Thomas, Miles College’s 6-foot-2 senior forward.
Thomas, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s reigning Player of the Year, is doing it all. She’s a fulltime student, a TSA passenger screener at the Birmingham Airport and a basketball standout – all while raising two small children on her own.
“It’s not really hard for me because I’m a very motivated person,” Thomas said. “I know that I have to work in order for my kids to survive. I also understand I have to finish school to earn the money that I want to make, or have the career that I want to have. So it’s really not hard balancing it. My job helps me a lot. My coaches help me a lot, and my teammates. So it’s not very hard as people would think. But it’s very tiring.”
Thomas wakes at 7 a.m. to get together before rousting her kids. Once she has them taken care of, it is off to a baby sitter if she can find one or to a relative. All this has to be done by 9:30 a.m. because her classes begin at 10 a.m. She may work in a bite to eat before she has to be at work at the airport for her 1:30-6:30 p.m. shift. Then it is on to basketball practice by 7 p.m. After practice is over by 9 p.m., she picks up her kids (who’ve already been fed), gets them bathed and into bed before she settles in around 11.
And it starts all over again the next day.
“I really don’t have a lot to do [in the evenings], so everything I have to do is done in the mornings,” Thomas said. “I try to schedule everything around my basketball schedule. So I have time for practice and hopefully getting better as a player.”
She’s at the top of her game right now.
Going into this weekend’s games, Thomas was among the league’s top rebounders (9.8 rpg) while ranking fourth in the SIAC in blocks (2.2 bpg), ninth in scoring (12.4 ppg), 11th in assists (2.4 apg) and sixth in free-throw percentage (.754). She also ranks seventh in offensive rebounds by averaging 2.8 per contest, while grabbing a league-leading 6.9 defensive rebounds per game. Thomas, who was named SIAC Player of the Week three times as a junior, has received the same honor twice this season.
All that and still Thomas is not satisfied.
That’s because Miles is hovering around .500 with a 13-10 record. That’s something that is not acceptable for Thomas. Getting her teammates in the flow offensively would be ideal for her, but she will score more if she has to.
“The coach [Phillip Wallace Jr.] and I have talked about it,” Thomas said. “He feels like the more I score, the better opportunities we have to win – which is true. I mean, I’ve had 20-points game and sometimes we’ll win and sometimes we’ll lose. I feel like if we all do what we’re supposed to do, we have a better chance to win. I need to show them how to get there.”
A mature response for someone who has been where her teammates are going.
Thomas is a senior, but is older than her teammates. She began her basketball career at Rutgers, where she played but wanted more than what she found on the basketball court.
“I just had a change in what I wanted to do,” Thomas said. “I always wanted a family. I figured as long as I got my degree, I could always be a teacher, and have a family. So I went through a sort of mental depression while I was up there.”
Then she married, became pregnant with her first child and ended up leaving Rutgers and moving to England for three years. When her husband was deployed to Afghanistan in March 2010, she decided to come home.
After leaving Rutgers, she remained in contact with the coaches at Miles. Now with two kids, she eventually enrolled at Miles in December 2010.
She is currently going through a divorce, a situation made easier because of her support system in Birmingham which has meant the world to her.
“Could it be easier? Yes, it could be easier,” Thomas said. “It’s not something where I wake up every morning hating getting up. As long as I can have someone help me with my kids, I am OK. I’m good.”