By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
A year ago, Stillwater senior Rico Thompson wouldn’t have wanted to be the one shooting free throws with the game on the line.
Now that ice water is finally flowing through his veins and he’s learned to relish that role.
“It just let me be the closer,” Thompson said. “I want the ball in my hands in that situation and I like stepping up to the plate and making my free throws.”
Thompson knocked down 8 of 10 free throws in the Pioneers’ 62-54 win over Southeast en route to 20 points. He also scored 19 points in the season-opening win over Tulsa NOAH, including going 5 of 6 from the charity stripe.
“His mental toughness has improved quite a bit,” Stillwater coach Michael Davis said. “He’s able to block things out now.”
Free throws have been a big part of Thompson’s offseason regimen, but it’s not the only addition to Thompson’s game. Davis said he wanted to see Thompson become a better teammate by making the extra pass when necessary.
“The thing that we try to stress to Rico is that we want Rico to be a great teammate,” Davis said. “By him doing that, the other guys have success because he’s getting them the ball. That’s the thing that we’ve been most proud of about Rico this season, he’s been a great teammate.”
Sometimes the role of a point guard is often overlooked. A post player that’s able to score at will often overshadows the guy dishing out the assists.
But Davis knows just how important it is to share the ball, which is why he and Thompson have struck a deal.
“We challenge him to get 10 assists in one game,” Davis said. “If he gets 10 assists in a game, coach (Kyle) Love gets to buy him a pair of shoes. It’s always been a deal since I’ve been coaching. If you get 10 assists or if you get 10 rebounds in a game, you might get a pair of shoes. I’ve had to buy a couple pair of shoes since I’ve been coaching. It’s an incentive for anybody on the team. If they get 10 rebounds, Coach D gets to buy you a new pair of shoes.”
Thompson just missed out on a new pair of Nikes after dishing out 8 assists and hauling in 9 rebounds against Southeast. Even so, Thompson said the shoes aren’t always on the forefront of his mind.
“The first thing I’m thinking about is trying to get a win,” Thompson said. “If the 10 assists comes into play, then I accept it. We’re all about winning right now. Ten assists is just like a one-person thing, but that’s not what I’m about. I’m all about getting wins right now.”
The wins were certainly rolling in for the Pioneers last week, albeit both games came down to the wire. Davis said Stillwater has a long way to go before they become the team that he wants them to be but with Thompson leading the way, he feels that the Pioneers are on their way to becoming the best team in the state.
“I want our team to keep improving after each game, each practice,” Davis said. “They want to be the best team in the state and we’re going to need guys like Rico and everyone else to continue to step up their game. I’m most concerned about Rico continuing to be a great teammate because that’s going to make our team that much better. It’s his senior year so you expect him to shoulder that burden of leadership and continue to get better.”
“We just have to take what the defense gives us,” Thompson said. “If the defense gives me an open shot, then I’ll take it. If not, then somebody else is probably open and I have to find them. We just have to stay motivated and keep getting better and better.”
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