He's labeled a "combo guard" for a reason: The 6-foot-4, 185-pounder is equally adept distributing the ball as a point guard and draining jumpers as a shooting guard. His senior statistics at Murfreesboro's Blackman High School last winter underscore the point.
Thompson proved his shooting prowess by connecting on 55.7 percent from the field (42.4 percent from 3-point range) and averaging 16.3 points per game on a team that went 30-1. He also managed to prove his point-guard skills by dishing out an average of 6.4 assists per contest.
Given this versatility, Thompson most likely will play both point guard and shooting guard for the 2013-14 Vols. Wherever he plays, Tennessee's head coach is thrilled to have him on the Vol roster.
"He's a very talented young man," Cuonzo Martin said. "He's a skilled guy with a passion for the game, a great IQ for the game. He's getting bigger and stronger, so we're excited about him."
Last week, mere days before Barton announced he'll enroll at UT as a post-graduate transfer, Martin described Thompson as "the guy to beat at point guard."
That quote may be outdated once Barton enrolls, since he has three years' experience as a college point guard. Still, Barton won't get the Vols' point-guard role by default. Thompson plays with a maturity and savvy that are rare for an incoming freshman. This isn't terribly surprising, since his father (Lonnie) is a long-time coach who currently oversees the program at Cumberland University in Lebanon.
"You're talking about a guy that's 6-4 with a great feel, a great IQ," Martin said. "He's a coach's son that understands how to play and doesn't mind passing the ball."
Tennessee has three scholarship returnees who have seen action at point guard — senior Jordan McRae, sophomore Armani Moore and junior Josh Richardson. Moore and Richardson have a shot at playing some point guard again this season. McRae does not.
"One guy I don't want playing the point-guard position is Jordan McRae," Martin said. "I want him to score the ball and shoot a lot of balls. That's his job."
McRae started a few games at the point last season but committed nine turnovers in a loss at Ole Miss and saw his scoring prowess plummet when forced to take on the added responsibility of running the offense.
In addition to battling Barton for the first-team point-guard job, Thompson should challenge for playing time at shooting guard. That's because his background as a coach's son and a point guard have given him a grasp of the game few players can match. This will be invaluable as he learns Tennessee's motion offense.
"One thing about a motion offense is having a feel for the game — being able to read the defense, make decisions with the basketball and make plays," Martin said. "You've got to have a good understanding of the game more than anything."
Darius Thompson's understanding of the game is quite impressive. He exhibits a quick mind, in addition to quick feet.
"More than anything, he's a guy that can make perimeter shots and make decisions with the basketball," Martin said. "I think he'll come in as one of our better passers out of the gate."
Being a coach's son, Thompson also knows how to process information while running the court at full speed.
As Martin put it: "Darius Thompson has a great feel for the game, a great pace to his game."
And a great chance to make impact at both point guard and shooting guard for the 2013-14 Vols. He's labeled a combo guard for a reason.