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Thomas twins form dynamic duo for Unity

Jan. 9—TOLONO — Twin brothers Andrew and Henry Thomas, about 10 years old at the time, started excitedly running around a Scheels sporting goods store.

They found some Nerf guns, and they could already see themselves having a blaster battle back home. They were ready to take them to the checkout counter, but then, their dad recommended something even better.

"Our dad goes, 'Why don't you get this basketball hoop, and we'll put it in the living room?" Andrew recalled.

They thought he was joking, but a few hours later, that basketball hoop was in their living room, lowered to 8 feet, with furniture moved to the side.

A perfect court for the Thomas twins.

Their parents were in the middle of redoing the kitchen, and even though the hoop meant their sons would be next to no help, at least they would be occupied. The boys would put on headbands and jerseys — Andrew was always Michael Jordan, and Henry was LeBron James — and go at it with no end in sight.

Of course, there was always an end to these informal games, most of the time right after the ball would bounce off the fan and break something or hit their mom in the head.

"There was a song they played on March Madness, and we'd have that on repeat and play games to 100," Henry said. "When we'd break a blind, Mom would be like, 'Nope, you're done for the night.'"

It was a lot of fun to be a Thomas twin in elementary school, and it's been just as fun this year as seniors at Unity High School, leading the Rockets' boys' basketball program to a 15-0 start to the season and a No. 2 spot in both The News-Gazette's weekly Top 10 and the latest Associated Press Class 2A statewide poll.

Andrew and Henry have played basketball together "since we were born, in a way."

Andrew was always the better defender, and Henry was the scorer. This year, they've both come along in each other's skill sets — Andrew getting better at shooting and Henry at defense — but there are still plenty of classic moments where Andrew comes away with a steal and passes it ahead to Henry for an easy transition basket.

Sometimes, Andrew said, "we can read each other's minds" on the court.

"It's more of a trusting thing," Henry clarified. "Like, 'I know you're going to do this, so I'm going to go this way on this play.' I'll just give him a little point, and he'll enter to the other side so I get the ball at the time I need it. Coach knows that, and he lets us do our thing, which is nice."

First-year Unity coach Matt Franks admitted, with as long as those two have been playing alongside one another, they're the best coaches for each other, joking that it feels like they have some kind of twin telepathic sixth sense going on with some of the plays they pull off.

On a more serious note, Franks commended how the Thomases approach the game. The Rockets run numerous drills revolving around competition, and he said Andrew and Henry are "two of the most competitive guys we have."

"They've just got a passion for the game, and it shows," Franks said. "It's infectious to our guys, and their work ethic has paid off. So much of their leadership starts and ends with their unbelievable work ethic. They work extremely hard and put in countless hours in the gym, and that's what makes them special. They're easy guys to follow because of that."

Unity is right at the midway mark of the season, still with a zero in the loss column. At this point last year, the Rockets were 8-7 and finished the season with a just-as-average record of 16-15.

It would take quite the collapse in the back half of the season to repeat that record this year, but the buzz surrounding the team when you walk the Unity hallways will tell you that's nowhere near happening.

"There's been a different change and a different swagger to the basketball team," Henry said. "You hear people talking, like, 'Oh, we're going to go to the basketball game.' When we started 5-0 and 6-0, people were like, 'Well, have you played anybody yet?' We're 15-0 now. People are tagging on, and they realize where we're at, what players we have and what kind of game they're going to see."

Next up for Unity is a home showdown against Tuscola on Tuesday night at the Rocket Center. The Warriors also started this season 15-0 but just lost their first game of the year this past Friday night at Shelbyville. They'll be hungry for a rebound win when they come to Tolono, but the Rockets are ready for it. Andrew said it'll have a postseason atmosphere, and Franks added that he's just looking forward to playing another one of the area's best teams.

"Tuscola has been in big games and big moments, so this is business as usual for them," Franks said of the reigning third-place team in 1A. "We're just excited for the opportunity to compete against them."

The Rockets' success this season stems from their chemistry and unselfish nature. Henry might be the go-to scorer, but any number of players could be the team's leading scorer on any given night with seniors Dalton O'Neill, Eric Miebach and sophomores Dane Eisenmenger and Coleton Langendorf adding to the balanced approach.

"Normally, a team breaks down when other people are trying to score the ball, and people get mad at each other," Henry said, "but this is the year everybody wants to win so bad. It goes back to everybody getting along so well."

Andrew echoed his brother, adding that it's taken the entire roster to get the Rockets to where they are right now.

"Being 15-0, it's not a Cinderella story, but it's pretty happy to be there," Andrew said. "We can all agree it's been from the work we've put in and the shots we've been shooting year round."

One can see that unselfish attitude and desire to do whatever it takes to win in the twins' play, and one can hear it when they talk, specifically about each other. The question of their favorite Unity basketball memories they've shared together came up, and neither of theirs was from their own accomplishment.

Henry's favorite was from the fourth game of this season against Marshall, when Andrew had his first in-game dunk.

"He goes up and dunks it, and I'm at halfcourt jumping up and down," Henry said. "It shocked me. I actually dunked the ball way before him, so I thought I was going to be this big dunker. Now, I can't dunk for some reason."

Andrew's favorite was from three years ago, when Henry got some varsity playing time as a freshman.

"That was pretty cool to see," Andrew said before adding what's bound to leapfrog that memory soon. "My next one will be, hopefully, when he gets his 1,000th point this year, which should be coming up. He's less than 100 points away."

The Thomas twins turned 18 last Thursday. Right before Andrew walked out of the house, he looked in the mirror and decided to change into a different pair of sweatpants. Moments later, he saw Henry, who was wearing the same pants Andrew had on earlier. They were still both wearing Nike — a red sweatshirt for Andrew and a blue quarter zip for Henry — but they said one of them would have been changing if the pants were the same.

"There are some days where we'll have one shirt out of the however many shirts that we'll wear on the same day," Andrew said, swearing that they haven't matched on purpose since their mom dressed them when they were younger, "and it's just like, 'Come on. Did you really have to wear that?'"

They didn't have any big plans for their big day. Just practice after school, a game on Friday and another game on Saturday. For them, that's all they needed.

"Two games for us is like a present," Henry said with a smile.