Relentless or Nothing: Coach Myles Thomas’ uphill journey from playing professional basketball
For an athlete, their sport was their world. It is said that when the ball finally stops dribbling for most athletes, they have to figure out life all over again. Nobody knows this better than Myles Thomas, a kid from Inglewood who went on to play pro basketball until an injury at the age of 22 triggered his journey onto a new path. Instead of wallowing in the loss of his pro career, Coach Thomas built something new out of it.
A trailblazer, an athlete and an entrepreneur, Thomas, 26, turned his experience playing pro basketball into becoming a mentor to young kids who, in his words, “are overlooked and have the same fight and grit as I did growing up playing ball.”
His college prep school, the R.O.N. Institute, stands for Relentless or Nothing. It currently enrolls over 20 students who all come to the Inglewood campus and learn their academics, train and live together. Students work closely with tutors and coaches and earn a high school diploma through Academy of Sports Science, an accredited K-12 online private school. For some, it’s a big sacrifice to be away from family so much. But Thomas says this journey will not only bring them all closer and create lifetime bonds, but also get them ready for what it will be like when they go on to college or professional sports.
According to NCAA.org there are about 483,000 athletes who play the game at a high school level and only 36,000 that play basketball at an NCAA level. This means only 7.5% of the high school athletes get to play at a college level. Fewer than 2% go on to play at NCAA Division I schools. Thomas has used stats like these to motivate his players to get them to strive to be part of that 2% that gets to play at a DI level.
While Thomas was attending Susan Miller Dorsey Senior High School in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles, he was recognized as MVP on the court and excelled academically off the courts. Coming out of high school Myles also felt that he was one of those overlooked players due to failing the eye contest, so he always had to play with a chip on his shoulder. He uses this experience to connect with his players, who he says have also felt overlooked, even though they play hard every time they step on the court.
After two years in college, he was recruited to play pro ball in Chihuahua, Mexico, for Los Nuceros. That’s when he tore his ACL and couldn’t continue playing pro basketball.
When he came back home to Los Angeles, he looked for something that would give him the same feeling that playing ball did. He decided to use his experience to train kids, building a clientele while working as a trainer at the local 24-Hour Fitness. At first, he didn’t get paid for the training sessions he ran for young basketball players at 24-Hour Fitness, but it helped him build relationships with youth and their families as he developed the model for the R.O.N. Institute.
Myles didn’t just want to start his business, he wanted to develop his own team and help these kids accomplish their own goals with basketball.
Eventually he had enough kids to train with him, and in the summer of 2017 he started his own Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team for students ages 13-15. Thomas says one thing that really stood out about the kids on his first team was that every kid only wanted to get better at the game. Some kids were able to make the teams at their schools that year and some weren’t and this made things like practice, games and training mean so much more to everyone.
“Some just needed someone that actually cared about them; some needed a coach that pushed them harder than they’d ever been,” says Thomas. “I was willing to be there and help develop them.”
In 2019, Myles founded the R.O.N. Institute with a gym full of kids who were hungry and wanted their opportunity to play ball at a higher level than just high school basketball.
“Myles has been a complete game changer in my life, he took a kid that really cared nothing about the academic portion of school and made me lock in as a senior,” says Akil Johnson, a former player. Johnson played basketball at Rio Hondo College while continuing his education, and is now part of the coaching staff at R.O.N. Institute.
Though Myles says that he has a long way to go, he feels that he’s on the right path.”Stay tuned and you’ll see where I can take this thing.”