"Last summer , he was about 40 pounds heavier than he is now. He started working on his body when Branch West coach Bob Gotllieb got him on his team and made him his personal project. Also, an assistant coach at the high school did a lot of work with him on his post game and lower post work. And so Deon got committed to getting his body in shape and working on his game and started to see results."
At what point did you first see him emerge as a big-timer and why didn't other schools notice this?
"By the time I saw him in February in a high school game, he was a different player. He was playing against the powerhouse Compton Centennial team and just dominated. At that point, nobody had really seen him play well so nobody paid attention to his high school performances. In April, he played in the spring in Houston and he was better than he had been but he didn't have a great event and he was in Vegas and was good but wasn't dominating. Basically the lower D-I programs were paying attention and Arizona State, to their credit, recognized his talents early. He even went to the USC team camp and didn't get an offer.
"He was very good at Pangos Camp in May, but wasn't showing it often in that environment since he was touching the ball once every ten times down the court. I can't emphasize it enough, for a guy like Deon who isn't an overpowering athlete, you've got to give him space to work so he can show you what he can do. In a camp environment, that doesn't happen. At ABCD Camp (which he attended in early July), they don't pass the big man the ball and so there's no spacing and no place to operate. The key with playing for Branch West on the AAU circuit after ABCD was they had such great spacing and they threw the ball to him every single play so you got to see what he could do -- which is rare in the summer setting. He got to show off everything he can do.
So did the majority of his conditioning work and skill set improvement occur before the summer?
"From May on, he was pretty much physically the same – he did most of the work the previous June to December. He was in good shape by the time I saw him against Centennial in February. He was a bit more toned up and explosive by the summer, but the bulk of the work had been done earlier."
His performances in Las Vegas at the Big Time Tournament were his coming out party, so to speak. Since you were courtside for that, what made that different from his previous performances?
"The main difference was it was the first time all the big coaches were there and it was a situation where he was in front of the top programs in the county and the first time they got to see him in an environment where he was getting the ball consistently and showing what he can do. He had shown it five months before that, just not quite to that extent and not in front of the key people. That was just the first time coaches got to see what he really could do."
His impressive showing there against elite 2007 center Cole Aldrich seemed to be the clincher when it came to getting big time offers, right?
"I talked to Deon right before the game about who he was facing and he took to the challenge. Aldrich wasn't on the court for all four quarters – sitting down for at least a third of the game – because Deon got him into foul trouble . It was also one of those things where Deon played a great game that day -- maybe the best game I'd see him play – and he can't be expected to play to that level every day, but it was great timing for him."
Talk about the strengths of his game --
"What he does best is score in the low post. He's got the ability to score in a variety of ways, it's not like he has just one move. He has counter moves, which you rarely see at the high school level. He's been taught to instinctively go with alternatives if his first move is stopped – he's got the drop step or can go under – he's got a very polished low post game.
"He's a scorer, but in addition to that, he's a very good passer and so I think he'll be a guy you'll need to double in the low post and when you do that he'll make you pay by passing the ball to the open man. He's got a great feel, he's very patient, he'll get the ball and pass it back out and reestablish position. He's like a college player already in terms of his play in the post. His strength is on the offensive end, whether it's scoring or passing."
How about his potential for continued development?
"What I like about him also as a prospect is physically he's still a work in progress. He's not reached his ceiling from a physical standpoint yet. He just dedicated himself a year ago to the game and to getting in shape. So I think there's a lot of room to grow – especially in terms of getting stronger. When he adds more strength to go with the soft touch inside, he'll really be tough to handle because right now he's getting it just done on his skill level. When he gets to be stronger, he'll be even harder to handle. He's also got long arms and good feet – he's not a big time leaper so he'll be more of a guy who plays by position. He's not going to jump over you but he'll play bigger than he looks because of his arms."
Other than strength and further conditioning, what is his biggest area for improvement?
"Rebounding is an area he'll need to work on because he's not an instinctual rebounder. He's a fair shot blocker and he gets the shots you don't expect him to get to because of his length – so I'd say he's an adequate shot blocker -- but rebounding is the area where he just needs to work harder at it and focus more. He doesn't focus on it as much as he does scoring and he'll need to be a better positional rebounder because he can't jump over people, so he'll need to learn to use his body to better position for the rebound."
Is it safe to say he'll be a college center, pending some expansion of his game?
"I wouldn't rule out completely that he plays the power forward one day, but as of now I've got him as a center. Any change on being a power forward would involve him moving a lot better. Right now I can't see that. Skill wise I can see him developing a game away from the basket facing up. He can knock down the free throw line jumper now and I can see that range improving – he's just a naturally gifted offensive player. But the real question would be - does he get a little quicker as a result of his body getting better and be able to defend people away from the basket? I don't see it now, but if you'd told me a year ago that he'd go to Carolina, I'd say you're crazy. Personally, I think he'll end up being an all-ACC player. I'm very high on him."
From having talked to him and his family for a while now, what can you say about Thompson's personality, character and approach to the game?
"Everything changed once Deon decided to get serious about basketball – his body got better, he worked harder on basketball, he worked harder at school. It was a life changing event for him.
"He's just very friendly, respectful – he listens to advice, he's appreciative. In talking to him, he's just a very nice kid and I think his head's just spinning at all this unexpected attention. It was refreshing to talk to a kid with no attitude, no arrogance – he didn't expect this. He's a humble kid. And he is – and is going to be – very coachable.
"He's figuring out himself what he can do. That's why he said he wanted to play with Tyler Hansbrough on his Chapel Hill visit – to compare his game to other elite players - because he's figuring out just how good he can be."