ASHLAND, Ky. – Marty Thomas almost apologetically admitted he wasn’t aware of the Distinguished Tomcat Award given annual at the Ashland Invitational Tournament.
When a committee member told him of the prestigious honor and that he was the recipient of the award, he was stunned and humbled.
“Complete surprise,” he said. “I said, ‘Oh my goodness. Are you sure? Me?’ Because I don’t think of myself as that person. It’s an incredible recognition. I’m grateful and honored.”
It’s not that much of a surprise to anyone who watched Thomas player for the Tomcats from 1992-94 when he put up more points than any player in Ashland history. His 1,873 points still ranks as No. 1 although current Tomcat Cole Villers isn’t far behind.
It also won’t be the first time Thomas has received an award during the AIT. He was chosen as one of the top 50 players in AIT history during a recognition several years ago.
“The swimming pool was there at that time, and we were stretched out in this single file line going through,” he remembered. “I was waiting for my name to be called and walk out to halfcourt. I know Jeff Hall, my coach, was just behind me. Him and Ervin Stepp from Phelps were jawing at each other, and I was caught in the middle (between them). It was like these guys were about to suit up for a high school game. Jeff silenced the crowed by showing his (NCAA) championship ring. I was thinking these guys are going to get wet.”
Thomas said that honor of being one of the best to ever play in the AIT was a great honor in itself. “That tournament gives you goose bumps,” he said.
Thomas will have the spotlight to himself this time. He will be honored before Ashland plays its opener in the AIT on Dec. 28.
Thomas helped the Tomcats to a 16th Region championship his junior season under coach Wayne Breeden when he averaged 27.7 points per game – the highest single-season scoring average in Ashland history. He also holds the record for a single game, scoring 54 points against Jellico, Tennessee, in a tournament in southeastern Kentucky.
Ashland won 121-33, which is the most points scored in a game in Tomcat history.
“I remember everybody telling me to shoot it,” he said. “Everybody was passing me the ball and saying, ‘keep shooting it.’ I remember their coach was very upset because this guy keeps making these shots. I don’t know how players describe being in a zone but that’s probably the best description.”
Thomas was in the zone a lot. He had 14 games of 30 or more points in his career, scored 38 in a pulsating 16th Region championship win over Russell in 1993 and followed that up with a 31-point performance in a loss to Shelby County in the Sweet Sixteen.
He was All-State as a junior and senior and a member of the Kentucky All-Stars in 1994. He was a two-time All-AIT performance and the All-Area Player of the Year as a senior. Thomas went on to play at Eastern Kentucky University before a back injury ended his career.
Being the scoring king for going on 27 years is something Thomas holds onto with pride. People still mention it to him, he said.
“I’ve heard it a lot in the workplace, or at Kroger or I’ll run into someone at the gas station,” he said. “I’ve been introduced that ay to friends. I’m not the type of person that I ever led with that in a conversation. People are like, ‘You didn’t tell me you’re the all-time leading scorer at your school?’ Not that I’m not proud of it, I’m just not somebody who talks about himself much.”
His humble beginnings started with Thomas and his brother dribbling on a gravel driveway with only a homemade hoop. They would shoot at the sundeck which had an X put on it or a box nailed to it. “If the ball rolled off the driveway, it went down the hill quite a bit,” he said. “We still got out there and dribbled.”
Marty said his father, the late Maynard Thomas, would be moved by the honor. “I know he’d give me a big warm hug and say he’s proud of me. My father’s words were there is always somebody out there better. You need to work harder. He would add to that you need to work harder so when you meet that person, you’re able to compete.”
Thomas has dabbled in coaching and currently is the middle school and junior varsity girls coach at Raceland. He hopes all 26 members of the team will go out to midcourt with him when he’s recognized.
Thomas is married to Wendy Thomas and five children – Kiyara Thomas, Chasity Thomas, Gabby Lawson, Tyler Evans and Whitney Evans. He also has two grandchildren, Hudson and Lucy. The family will join him at midcourt when Tomcat PA announcer introduces him as the recipient of an award that Thomas is quickly learning about.
“There are so many great names in Tomcat history on that list,” he said. “It’s humbling to say the least.”
Distinguished Tomcat Award honorees
2001-Ralph Felty, All-State football player in 1937 for the Tomcats who went on to play in the Rose Bowl for Duke.
2002-Charlie Reliford, major league baseball umpire who is still regarded as the best “rules man” in the game.
2003-Brandon Webb, major league baseball pitcher and the 2006 Cy Young Award winner for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
2004-Bob Wright and the Lynch family, a state championship coach of the famed ’61 Tomcats and a family whose talent – and class – was unmatched in Ashland sports. Billy and Bobby Lynch are two of the greatest athletes to ever wear maroon and white.
2005-Salyers family, Greg, Phil and Bryan, all great basketball players and great people who loved their Tomcats.
2006-Conley family, George, Larry, Joe and Linda. Some of the best of the best be it coaching or playing.
2007-Jerry Henderson, one of the greatest all-around athletes in Tomcat history and one of the greatest gentlemen in Ashland history.
2008-Harold Cole, outstanding basketball coach who knew how to win.
2009-Dr. Garner Robinson and David Green, who helped Ashland become the state’s first school with certified trainers.
2010-Dr. Loren Ledford, a diehard Tomcat who starred in basketball and was later a passionate supporter and team doctor.
2011-David Payne, Mr. Tomcat. Need more be said? Dirk Payne did more for the Tomcats than anybody on this list, period.
2012-Dicky Martin, The Voice. He is a strong part of the tradition and will fight you if you say anything bad about a Tomcat. He can say it because he’s family. But don’t you try it around him.
2013-Mike Johnson, football and baseball player for the Tomcats who gave much back to Ashland’s youth as a baseball coach.
2014-Herb Alban, a 60-year Tomcat fan who has seen a lot during his 98 years. An amazing man whose life could be a movie.
2015-Steve Gilmore, whose lifetime has revolved around the Tomcats as a coach, teacher, administrator, superintendent and now huge fan as he works as mayor of the city.
2016-Herb Conley, an all-sport athlete and a football coach whose legacy is unmatched. Anybody else have a statue?
2017-Mark Maynard, sports historian and former sports editor and editor of The Daily Independent who has written 11 books including eight with Tomcat ties.
2018-Vic Marsh, the all-time winningest coach in Ashland Tomcat football history. He led the Tomcats to the 1990 state championship.
2019-Frank Sloan who coached Ashland teams to regional championships in baseball, girls basketball and soccer.
2020-COVID, no selection.
2021-Marty Thomas, who starred in basketball from 1992-94 when he became all-time scoring king with 1,873 points. He also had the single-game record with 54 points and averaged 27.7, an all-time best, his junior season.