For the past month, Zach Thomas has been sleeping in his own bed and eating home-cooked meals, including two of his favorites, chicken parmigiana and salmon with vegetables.
While Thomas’ job provides no shortage of perks, these are treasured because he doesn’t get to enjoy them that often.
The past year and half for the 2014 graduate and former basketball star of Oakdale High School has been a virtual whirlwind of travel as he pursues a career in the NBA, which would be a childhood dream come true.
Upon graduating in May 2018 from Bucknell University as the reigning Patriot League Player of the Year, Thomas spent time in Las Vegas with the Utah Jazz’s summer league team.
Then, it was off to Belgium for nine months to play a season of professional basketball. Then, it was back to Vegas for the summer league and a recently completed, successful stint with the Houston Rockets.
And, on Friday, Thomas took off for Pesaro, Italy, where he will spend the next season playing in the top Italian division, Serie A, for V.L. Pesaro.
Until his plane took off for the next chapter in his professional career, the past month was really the first significant time he had spent at home in Frederick County since he left for college in the summer of 2014.
“It’s always good to be back home,” Thomas said last week on “The Final Score,” a Frederick News-Post podcast.
He got a chance to spend extended time with his family, see longtime friends and train in gyms that were once very familiar to him at Oakdale and Linganore.
“[The Oakdale gym] is my favorite place to be when I am back because there’s a lot of memories in there,” said Thomas, Frederick County’s all-time leading scorer in boys basketball (2,281 points). “I just feel pretty comfortable in that gym.”
The 6-foot-7, 230-pound Thomas, 23, has been shoved out of his comfort zone for much of the past year, adjusting to the life and routine of a professional basketball player in a foreign land that doesn’t share the same culture or language.
“Dutch was not the easiest language to learn,” he said of his time in Belgium. “I still only know a couple of words.”
In Italy, Thomas will live in a beach-side apartment overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Venice is an hour away.
In addition to paying his salary, the team will give him access to a car and cover just about all of his living expenses short of Thomas’ meals on his personal time.
“I have heard our food here is nothing compared to Italy,” he said. “Everything is handmade pasta.”
After barely stepping onto the court for the Jazz during the summer league last year, Thomas began to gain a foothold as a professional in Belgium, where the 4,000 to 5,000 in attendance would spend as much time in the arena bars as in the stands.
“The fans were super rowdy,” he said. “It was just different. I’d say a good environment there.”
He averaged 14.1 points and six rebounds per game and shot 45 percent from the field, including 40 percent from 3-point range, playing for Okapi Aalstar.
That gave him some momentum and a little bit of name value heading into this summer. He played in three games for the Rockets’ summer league team and averaged 10 points a game. He made seven 3-pointers, no small feat for someone who would be counted on to provide reliable shooting for any NBA team.
“What maybe was a pipe dream two years ago seems a lot closer today,” said Terry Connolly, Thomas’ former coach at Oakdale. “It’s not out of the realm of possibilities that he goes and plays well in Italy and then eventually gets signed by an NBA team.”
Thomas admitted it was difficult to ride the bench and watch last year as a member of the Jazz’s summer-league team. But the experience gave him some valuable perspective when the Rockets gave him a call.
He knew what to expect and what he needed to do. Things weren’t quite so unfamiliar. He wasn’t as awestruck by his surroundings or some of the people he got to meet and play alongside.
“It’s getting closer in sight,” Thomas said of his NBA dream. “You just keep your head down and continue to do your work and just gotta trust that everything is going to work out. It’s been my dream ever since I was a little kid. It is what I have been working toward every day.”