It is just a simple merge on Interstate 77, one of the main highways through Cleveland. Two left turns and one right turn is Cleveland Central Catholic High School, where Ball State redshirt junior forward Miryne Thomas grew up and was a four-year letterwinner on the school’s varsity boys’ basketball team.
There is a parking lot surrounded by a large church, a middle school and the high school. Through the high school’s main entrance and up the stairs, people are greeted by rows of flags representing colleges that have connected with students. The Cleveland skyline is even visible outside of the school.
It has come full circle for Thomas. He is coming back home to where it all started and competing in the arena where he grew up watching the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. He is back in Cleveland to play in the Mid-American Conference Tournament as a member of Ball State Men’s Basketball, and he will be just three turns away from where he grew up.
“My excitement level is through the roof,” Thomas said. “I am just so excited to hear familiar voices and see familiar faces. I talk to my family a lot because they don’t get to come to Indiana a lot. It’ll be [exciting] to be in that Cleveland atmosphere.”
He will get to see his mother, sister — who recently had a baby — and nephew — who he hasn’t seen since Christmas. Another familiar face for Thomas will be Cleveland Central Catholic varsity boys’ basketball head coach Jordan Duke.
“Coach Duke humbled every player that he had,” Thomas said. “He treated guys exactly the same, no matter what. He really taught us off of the court lessons on how to be men, such as dressing properly on game day.”
As the youngest in the family and without a father, Thomas said his childhood wasn’t always easy. He saw a lot of violence, drugs and crime growing up.
“It was rough,” Thomas said. “There are a lot of different challenges. There [was] a lot of crime. There [are] a lot of different things people go through, and I faced a lot of adversity coming up. It is just something that I reflect on. Today is gone, and you can only focus on tomorrow.”
Duke, however, always had Thomas’ back no matter what.
“Regardless if it was rides, money, food, clothes or whatever, he knew he could lean on me or anybody else to get those things and give him the support he needs to stay on track,” Duke said. “That is what I am here for, and that is what I do.”
Cleveland Central Catholic High School Athletic Director Maggie Lash said one of the traits she admires most about Duke is how anybody who might need something can go right to him.
“I think [the player and coach dynamic] is more important than teaching the typical basketball skills,” Lash said. “That is one of the best things about coach Duke. He isn’t just about basketball. Every kid that has come through our program will say the same thing.”
From a basketball standpoint, Duke said, he had to have honest conversations with Thomas on what he wanted to gain from the sport. Thomas always wanted to play at the Division I level and believes that Duke’s playstyle put him in the best shape of his life.
“The biggest thing with coach Duke was him preparing us for the professional mindset,” Thomas said. “On the basketball aspect, it was exciting because it was the most I ever ran or the most I dunked the ball. We got up the floor really fast, and we played together.”
During Thomas’ time at Cleveland Central Catholic, he led the Ironmen to a regional final and two district championships. However, Thomas’ transformation throughout his career impressed Duke the most, specifically his drive to get in shape and become worthy of playing basketball in college.
“He went through a body transformation when he was with me,” Duke said. “He was extremely skinny and small. His dedication to wanting to play Division I basketball was through the roof. He was able to really work out, and he was dedicated to being in the gym and the weight room, and he did.”
Beyond basketball, Thomas’ childhood struggles inspired him to give back to his community. He participated in the King Kennedy Boys and Girls Club of America — just down the street from his high school.
“I had the Boys and Girls Club before I started playing basketball,” Thomas said. “It taught me life skills and how to do small things or how to maintain myself, and how to prepare yourself for school, study habits and proper things like that.”
Leo Hyland, Cleveland Central Catholic High School president, said Thomas was a positive presence in the school, and his contributions outside of basketball will leave him ready for life after college.
“We encourage all of our students to get involved,” Hyland said. “That is part of our mission here — to develop their faith, and for them to take that into action. I think he did a great job of that, and by the time he was ready to launch here, he was all set.”
Lash said she knows how time-consuming being a student-athlete is but praised Thomas for continuously giving back to his community
“The one thing about Miryne [Thomas] as a student-athlete was that he wasn’t just involved in Central Catholic,” Lash said. “He was involved with the community and giving back. I thought it was great seeing him grow in that role of being that man who wanted to give back to the community.”
Carol Troxell, Cleveland Central Catholic High School business teacher, taught Thomas throughout his time as a student and thought his personality is what made him special. She said he was always smiling and brought nothing but positivity to the classroom.
“It is always wonderful to see [students] coming full circle and be successful and productive members of society,” Troxell said, “Doing what they love on top of it is above and beyond what you would expect.”
Thomas is the way he is because he wants to inspire young people coming up through Cleveland. He wants to be a role model for years to come.
“I try to influence the young people coming up and going through the high schools and going through the same thing I was going through,” Thomas said. “Just trying to give them tips on how to be better and more prepared.”
Despite growing up and having rough experiences, Thomas has had support his whole life. Now, he gets to play in front of those who helped him get there and, potentially, win a Division I tournament.
“It is so exciting to see any of our athletes take their passion to the next level,” Lash said. “Miryne has had an entire army of people behind him, starting with coach Duke. His family has been extremely supportive. It is great to see him come full circle.”