Stillwater News Press

April 20, 2013

Stillwater's Rico Thompson signs to play basketball at the University of South Dakota

By Nick Snow
nicksnow@stwnewspress.com

STILLWATER, Okla. — When Rico Thompson was in fifth grade, his father Carter Davis posed a simple question — did Rico want to be a ballplayer or a basketball player?

Thompson’s transformation from a run-of-the-mill playground player to an elite prospect was completed Friday at the Pioneer Fieldhouse when the Stillwater High School senior signed a national letter of intent to play basketball at the University of South Dakota.

“It was big for me,” Thompson said. “My family always told me to have fun playing ball. Play hard, work hard and in the end it always pays off. I’m glad to see that it finally paid off and I’m getting my school paid for from the University of South Dakota.”

“I can’t even put it into words,” said an emotional Samantha Jones, Thompson’s mother. “It was very emotional. That’s my baby. Even though he’s my first born, he’s my baby and I’m just proud of him.”

From his first two years of high school in Lawton to putting his John Hancock on the national letter of intent Friday, it has been a long — and sometimes bumpy — road for Thompson.

But even after meeting with Oklahoma State University coach Travis Ford hours before signing with South Dakota, Thompson held true to the team that pursued him from the beginning.

“They were there from day 1,” Thompson said. “I went there to visit over spring break and I really enjoyed it and felt comfortable. I appreciate the meeting with coach Ford. He took the time out of his day to have a meeting with me and talk about some things, but South Dakota felt comfortable for me. I’ve been out there, I enjoyed it and I knew coming in what they expected of me, so I felt right at home.”

And that’s what Thompson has been searching for his whole life — a place he can call home. A place where he feels comfortable enough to ask questions. A place where he can just be himself.

“As a parent, you really don’t want your kid to leave,” Davis said. “But they have to grow up. As far as the school, we pretty much let that be his choice. It was all his choice. We would have supported him regardless of where he went.

“I just want him to enjoy himself, take in the experience and keep working hard. If he does that he’ll achieve what he wants to do anyway.”

There’s little doubt that Thompson will continue to show the grit and determination that helped him earn All-State honors as a senior — averaging 19.6 points and six assists per game for the Pioneers.

In fact, it’s that grit and determination that makes the South Dakota staff feel like they may have picked up a steal.

“Without question, we got a steal,” South Dakota assistant coach Lloyd Williams said. “He’s one of the best players in Oklahoma and he’d be a steal for anybody. He’s got a great work ethic and we’re very excited to have him joining our team.”

“They’re getting a gym rat,” Stillwater coach Michael Davis said. “He’s going to work hard for them, no doubt in my mind. I hope Rico just takes the discipline that we’ve taught him here and continues to build on that.”

Thompson may be a little bit further away from home — exactly 12 hours and 26 minutes away from Jones’ house in Memphis, Tenn. — but he will certainly have a following.

“I know it’s 12 hours and 26 minutes away from Memphis in the car, so he’s not that far away,” Jones said. “He’s close enough to where I can get to him if I need to. Of course, we’ll be making a couple of trips up to watch him play. I have to check out his surroundings — that’s just part of being a mother. I want to know where he’s staying the next four years.”

“I’ll probably make a couple trips up there myself,” Carter Davis said. “I’ll definitely be at his first game and will probably check on him from time to time. It’s going to be exciting. It’ll be like the first time you watch your kids plays sports. They pull on that jersey and lace their shoes up just right — it’ll be a great experience.”

And while, Thompson’s former high school coach might not be able to catch as many of Thompson’s games based on his obligation to Stillwater, Thompson says he plans to stay in contact with the coach that taught him so much over the course of such a short time.

“Now I get to just grow up on my own,” Thompson said. “I have to depend on myself now. Of course, I’ll stay in contact with coach D and talk to him daily. Me and coach D grew a bond when I first moved down here and we’re going to keep it going. Just because I leave, it doesn’t mean that we’re not family any more. He’s like my second dad to me.”