Freshman Thompson makes immediate impact on Redhawks men's basketball team

Thursday, November 26, 2009
Southeast freshman Derek Thompson drives against Eastern Michigan during their game Tuesday at the Show Me Center. (Fred Lynch)

Like the Southeast Missouri State basketball team, freshman Derek Thompson is a work in progress.

But Thompson already has displayed the ability that first-year coach Dickey Nutt believes could make him one of the Ohio Valley Conference's top guards before his college career is over.

Thompson has been a major bright spot during the early stages of Nutt's rebuilding process at Southeast, leading the Redhawks in scoring through four games and helping them snap a 21-game losing streak that ranked as the nation's longest.

"I'm so proud of Derek and what he's brought to this team," Nutt said. "He's one of the better freshmen I've had over the years. It's very difficult to get a freshman to have an immediate impact."

Thompson, who has started one game and played off the bench in the other three, had a coming out party of sorts Sunday at Northern Illinois as Southeast (1-3) won 70-64 in overtime to notch the program's first victory since early last season.

Southeast's Derek Thompson drives against Eastern Michigan's Jamell Harris during the first half Tuesday at the Show Me Center. (Fred Lynch)

Thompson, a 6-foot-3, 180-pound native of Detroit, scored 19 points for the highest offensive output by a Southeast player this year. He hit 6 of 12 shots, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range, and his 3-pointer in the opening minute of overtime put the Redhawks ahead to stay.

The performance netted Thompson OVC freshman of the week honors as he became just the fifth Southeast men's basketball player to earn that distinction and the first since the 2006-07 season.

"I was honored. I was grateful to be acknowledged," Thompson said of winning the OVC award. "But that's all my teammates finding me open."

Thompson is averaging a team-high 13.3 points per game -- no other Southeast player is in double figures -- but he said he's far from satisfied with his performance so far.

"I don't feel as if I'm playing good at all," Thompson said. "I really need to pick it up as far as hustle plays and defense."

That attitude reinforces how good Nutt believes Thompson can be. The coach said Thompson is accurate in believing he needs plenty of work on the defensive end.

"I told Derek I'm so proud of your game, I just want to make you a well-rounded basketball player," Nutt said. "He's an outstanding shooter. Offensively he can break a team's back.

"Derek needs to get better defensively, and he knows that. He really wants to be a complete player."

Thompson's rookie season has had its share of rough spots even offensively, but lately he has turned things on in a big way.

Thompson exploded in Southeast's two exhibition games, averaging a team-leading 19 points while hitting 14 of 25 shots, including 9 of 15 from beyond the arc.

That hot streak did not carry over to the start of the regular season. In Southeast's first two contests, lopsided losses to Saint Louis and Arkansas State, Thompson shot 6 of 25 and missed all 10 of his 3-point attempts, although his 19 points were second on the squad.

Despite those struggles, Thompson said he never doubted his ability.

"I never lost my confidence," he said. "I thank my dad and my high school coach for that. They said you're a shooter, keep shooting."

That's what Thompson did and the shots started falling again, first against Northern Illinois and also during Tuesday's 86-76 home loss to Eastern Michigan.

Thompson scored 15 points as he hit 6 of 13 shots, including 3 of 8 from 3-point range.

That makes Thompson 12 of 25 overall and 7 of 15 on 3-pointers during the past two games against Mid-American Conference opponents. He leads Southeast with seven 3-point baskets.

"What I love about Derek is he has ice water in his veins," Nutt said. "He's not afraid of anybody."

Thompson, whose season shooting numbers are 36 percent overall and 28 percent from long range, has displayed a solid all-around game. He's been impressive at slashing to the basket in addition to his shooting prowess and is tied for the team lead with 14 free-throw attempts. He has made the most foul shots on the squad, 10, for 71.4 percent.

Thompson also is Southeast's No. 3 rebounder with an average of three per game while tying with junior point guard Anthony Allison for first in minutes played at 31.5. And despite seeing so much action, Thompson has committed only two turnovers.

"I'm really proud of the way Derek has played so far and he's only going to get better," Nutt said.

Thompson was among the final signees of Nutt's first recruiting class at Southeast after the coach was hired in mid-March. Nutt believed he got a steal after Thompson led a loaded prep school team in scoring last year.

"Watching him all summer, we were trying to find guys who are available, and Derek was available," Nutt said. "Derek's a late bloomer out of high school and we were really excited to sign him."

Progressive Christian Academy in Washington, D.C., where Thompson spent the past two seasons, produced eight Division I players and five of the nation's top 100 prep school players in 2008-09. Yet Thompson averaged a team-high 27.3 points while adding 7.9 rebounds and 9.5 assists as a senior.

Before that, Thompson earned first-team all-state honors at Melvindale High School in Detroit, where he was rated among the state's top players according to the 2006-07 Michigan Prep Magazine Preseason Report. He averaged 25 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists that year.

Thompson, who said he has "always pretty much" been a scorer, said his prep school background helped prepare him for Southeast.

"Me playing with a lot of good guys, having the chance to play with and against a lot of high-major [Division I] guys, made the transition here easier," Thompson said. "But I still have a lot to improve on."

Thompson said he also was recruited by some higher-level programs, including several from the Mid-American Conference, and he even drew some interest from Michigan.

But Thompson said he was sold on Nutt and what the coach is doing to revive Southeast basketball.

"I really liked coach Nutt as a person and liked what he's trying to do with this program," Thompson said. "I liked the campus and I thought this was a good place for me."

So far there are no regrets as Thompson quickly has become one of Southeast's go-to players and the Redhawks appear to be improving rapidly with solid performances the past two games.

"We're just getting better and better every game," Thompson said.

Much like the freshman.

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