Thompson Bounces Back

This wasn't the way things were supposed to go this year. Not for the Whitney Young High School basketball team, and not for their star player, junior Sam Thompson.

They entered the 2009-2010 with lofty goals, including a chance at back-to-back Illinois Class 4A state championships. But an ankle injury sidelined Thompson following their Jan. 9 loss to Muskegon Heights High School, and the Dolphins slammed full-force into the proverbial "rough patch."

During the next three months, with the central cog in their machine on the bench, Whitney Young would drop five more games – and all Thompson could do was watch.

"That was very tough," the four-star prospect said. "Especially because my team was struggling. That's probably the worst feeling in basketball is having to watch your team struggle when there's nothing you can do about it."

But Thompson would eventually return. The Dolphins responded by making a late season surge to the state championship game, including a dramatic win over rival Waukegan High School – and Illinois signee Jereme Richmond – in the semi-finals.

What makes his presence so valuable to the team? Plenty, said Dolphins head coach Tyrone Slaughter, but it all starts on the defensive end. With his natural length and athleticism, Thompson is able to defend all five positions on the floor – a talent Slaughter said he would take with him to the college level.

"I think when you talk about Sam, you have to kind of start off talking about his incredible athleticism, his ability to make plays in so many different ways," Slaughter explained.

Diligent work in the gym has translated into an uptick in Thompson's offensive skills as well. An above-average ball handler with a developing jump shot, the Dolphins utilized him primarily in the post, but Slaughter said that would change dramatically next season.

"Next year we're going to allow him to open his game up and play all the way out," he said. "His ability to get to the basket and dunk the basketball, handle the ball off the dribble, those are some of the many strengths of his and I think there's more to come."

A player of Thompson's ability can write his own ticket to essentially any college program in the country, but he's been taking his recruitment slowly. In October, his list stood at 10 schools – Oregon State, Ohio State, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois, Miami and Virginia Tech.

After putting thoughts of recruiting and college basketball aside during the season,'s #7 small forward prospect recently trimmed his list in a big way.

"I narrowed my school list down to five," Thompson said. "Ohio State, Florida, Oregon State, Illinois and Kentucky. Unless something happens I think it's going to be one of those five. It's been a fun experience getting to know the coaches and the programs."

A commitment could theoretically happen at any time after the AAU season, he added, but right now he's just looking forward to getting back on the court with his team – Mac Irvin Fire – in three weeks.

"Especially coming off of a loss (in the state title game), I'm really eager to get back on the court and try to prove myself nationally," Thompson said. "It's gonna be fun."

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