By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
When Stillwater High School graduate Rico Thompson takes the court at the Mabee Center in Tulsa for Thursday’s Oklahoma Coaches Association All-State basketball game, it’s going to be more than just a homecoming.
It’ll be a chance to play in front of dozens of friends, family and coaches — the people that pushed Thompson each day to be the best he can be.
“It’s going to be special because all the coaches he played for and a lot of his family will be there,” Stillwater coach Michael Davis said. “He won’t get a chance to come home a lot, so this will be one last chance for them to see him play before he goes off to college. Some of them may drive to Kansas City, but that’s about as close as he’s going to get. He left the day after graduation and hasn’t been back since, so it’s going to be really neat.”
Thompson may have only been in South Dakota a few months, but when you’re away from those closes to you those months often feel like years.
“I was only up there two months, but it seemed like forever,” Thompson said. “I was starting to get a little homesick. It’s good to come back and see friends and family for a little while before school starts up and the season gets going.”
It would have been easy for Thompson to blow off the All-State game — much like most college-bound players often do to avoid the risk of unnecessary injuries. But that’s the thing about Thompson. If there’s a game going on, he’s not one to miss it — exhibition or not.
“It feels good to come home one more time and get to play in front of friends, family and coaches one more time before I go off to South Dakota for a while,” Thompson said. “There’s no pressure added. I’m just out here having fun and enjoying the little time I have before I start school.”
“I expect Rico to just be Rico,” Davis said. “He’s been working out with the college guys, so he’s probably a little stronger and a lot more fit than he was in high school, but he hasn’t changed. I know he’s going to go out there and play hard because that’s what he does.”
And in truth, that time spent in South Dakota may actually turn into a blessing for Thompson. The former Pioneer said he’s added some new things to his repertoire over the last few months and hopes to display them in the All-State game.
“It helps a lot being around older players,” Thompson said. “It made me learn the game faster, playing with them a lot because I had to react quicker. I couldn’t really take my time and think about it at the next level. You just have to read and react quickly.
“I’m going to use what the coaches up there taught me and see if it works. That’s good because the coaches up there have told me that there’s a lot that I need to work on and stuff I need to do while I’m gone, so it’s good to have this game to be able to work on what I need to work on without any added pressure.”
Even if Thompson just gets a few mintues of playing time in Thursday’s game, just the fact that he was selected to the team was special. But somewhere in the back of his mind that familiar voice of Davis continued to ring out.
“I just told him to stay humble,” Davis said. “I know he was all excited and everything, but he still hasn’t won anything yet.”
It’s that humbleness that got Thompson to where he is today. And it’s also the reason why he chose to make one final curtain call in the state of Oklahoma.
“I didn’t get here alone,” Thompson said. “I needed help and this is a way for me to pay them back. It’s a way of showing them that all their hard work paid off for me, so it should be pretty cool.”