Thompson, 'A Real Cinderella Story'

The odds were stacked against Deon Thompson in just about every possible way. The 6-foot-8 post player did not start playing organized basketball until the 10th grade. When he did, he weighed in at 300 pounds and despite his height he couldn't dunk a basketball. But all of that quickly changed.

In his junior season he dropped 50 pounds and began playing AAU basketball for the first time that summer with Bob Gottlieb's Branch West team. With his game rapidly improving and the exposure he received playing AAU basketball Thompson began to receive some attention from D-1 schools such as Pepperdine and Nevada.

Just like he rapidly changed his body, he changed the shape of his recruitment at the Reebok Big Time tournament in Las Vegas. Playing against the No. 1 center in the class of 2007, Cole Aldrich, Thompson put on a big man exhibition, scoring 21 points on Aldrich. And according to his high school coach, George Tachibana, that game and his play the rest of the tournament sent Thompson's recruitment into a frenzy.

"By the end of that little tournament out there in Vegas he was getting offers," the Torrance High School coach explained. "They were all starting to come and by the end of the AAU circuit he had all the big schools calling. He went from mid-level to the elite of college basketball calling him."

Thompson began getting calls from North Carolina, UCLA, Arizona State, Kentucky, Wake Forest, Connecticut, and Gonzaga. And after taking a few visits and participating in some in-home visits Thompson made a decision Tuesday night to play for the University of North Carolina.

"He definitely was interested from the beginning. One of his favorite players is Sean May and one of his favorite coaches is Roy Williams so that was a good combination," Tachibana said about Thompson's recent commitment. "He was hoping that they would recruit him and after Vegas they did."

It wasn't always clear that North Carolina was the school to beat for Thompson, as Kentucky and Gonzaga were very strong with the big man as well. But Tachibana said that the in-home visit with Roy Williams and the visit to North Carolina put them ahead of the others.

"He got a real thrill walking out to the football game and the fans were great. Even when he walked through town and went out with the players people recognized him and he felt really good," Tachibana said of Thompson's visit. "He liked the place and the campus was beautiful all of those things and the basketball things were just right."

Tachibana was kind of caught off guard by the decision. While he knew the Tar Heels were in good position, he didn't realize that Thompson was ready to make a decision so soon.

"It was a really tough decision. He kind of surprised me there at the end with the timing. But he felt comfortable with it and he said he didn't need to wait any longer, and he wanted to just make the decision now," Tachibana said. "He felt waiting longer was going to get things back muddled and for the first time in the whole process he felt confident so he made it."

According to Tachibana, Roy Williams is getting a big guy with a lot of potential. Thompson is still very young, as he just turned 17, and the California center has a wing span of 7'4.

"He's running the floor and he's increased his perimeter game. He has a great touch on the ball. You can tell even when he's shooting free throws that he has a great stroke," Tachibana said about the potential of his game. "His mid range game is really improving and it's really underrated. People don't realize that he can step out on the floor and shoot."

With his potential and commitment to North Carolina in place, Thompson has completed a total life turnaround.

"He went from a player that had trouble with grades, to last year a player that was an ‘A' student. He just turned around in every aspect. His basketball blossomed he realized that he had an opportunity to do something and he made a commitment to get his body in shape and his mind. His grades and the classroom work ethic is a 100 percent turnaround. It was a great experience for him, a real Cinderella story."

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