It’s familiar knowledge that the 2018-19 Rhode Island Rams are a fledgling bunch, integrating a number of freshmen to the program under first year head coach David Cox. One key returnee, however, is redshirt junior Christion Thompson who sat out last season after undergoing knee surgery in the summer of 2017. He re-engages now as one of the leaders of the new-look Rams.
Through the early going, Thompson has shown textbook unselfishness and a willingness to perform the dirty work, while filling up the box score as well. He’s averaging 9.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and nearly two steals in nearly 28 minutes per game.
Atlantic 10 analyst and Yurview contributor Chris DiSano recently sat down with Thompson to cover off on a spate of topics related to the Rams and Thompson’s role.
Chris DiSano: What did you learn being in an observer role in your “time off” last year?
Christion Thompson: I was taking in a lot throughout the year. Basically, how to play and finish games. Our seniors were good throughout the game, obviously, but they really stepped up when they needed to towards the end of games to be able to finish them. That’s what I need to do now for this team. Do what needs to be done, using my versatility, and do what others may not yet do: hustle plays, rebounding, taking charges. It’s not too glamorous but needs to be done to help us win games. That’s what I bring to the table, along with the ability to shoot the three-ball.
CD: Your role has certainly evolved, but can you describe specifics of how you’ve grown?
CT: At first I was a role player… and everybody, of course, is a role player and figures out where to fit for the team. Early on in my career I was supposed to come in, bring energy, and knock down a few shots. I have to be a leader for this team. The young guys really look to me – and at me – now when they make mistakes – even if I’m on the bench and we make eye contact. I need to support them and tell them to stay with it, stay engaged, and be ready. It’s what the older guys did for me, especially Hassan Martin and Stan Robinson. They pushed me along and got me to where I am today.
CD: What about this leadership role do you enjoy the most?
CT: I enjoy the exchange of telling them something and giving them advice. At first they may not listen, they think they’ve got it their own way… but they listen and then get it right. They come to me like “Hey, it worked.” That smile they have and feeling they have like, “Now I’m here and I’m ready…” It’s a validation…And to help them realize that although they’re really good… this is a different game. College basketball is a different game.
CD: Recognizing it takes some newcomers longer than others, how do you remember it? When did it begin to click for you? When might it click for these new guys?
CT: I think it will click within a few games honestly for some of them. For some it could take a little longer. It’s all about mindset. How you come into a game: knowing your personnel, knowing the scout… I came in as a freshman and was really focused on being a contributor in any way and that has led me while here. I had to really focus on the game plan and know what I needed to do within the game, know who I was guarding at all times, and know that I could bring more than even I would’ve thought if I worked off of preparation.
CD: What will you remember about stepping back on the floor for the Bryant game [first official game back in the lineup] and that night generally?
CT: My mom came up and we went to eat and everything… it was a long time coming. I knew my time would come and that when it did, I had to be ready to step up and make plays and that’s what I did. I knew I was ready. I wasn’t nervous or scared, just more anxious than anything.
CD: What skill development did you work on during the redshirt year?
CT: I worked on ball handling and also being able to finish through contact. Also working on knocking down contested shots. As a freshman and sophomore I was more of a wide-open, knock-down shooter. Now I feel like I have more confidence shooting the three in different situations — when I’m needed. I don’t always have to do it as we have Jeff, Fatts and Cyril. But when I’m needed and when we need points I’m able to contribute.
CD: In terms of growth, people look at wins but you see growth on an incremental basis. What are some of the signals you’re looking for which demonstrate the team’s growth as you move forward?
CT: As the freshmen continue to trust us when they make mistakes and we get on them we’ll see more and more growth. A lot of times, when you get on somebody they might feel like you’re just getting on them, not getting on them to help them, so as they continue to take the constructive criticism and grow they can continue making great leaps. Also, once the freshmen are able to adjust, not to just the pace, but to the atmosphere, crowd, lights and not have the jitters and just lock-in on us all playing for one another, we’re going to be in great shape.
CD: What’s it like playing for Coach Cox?
CT: Coach Cox is an intense guy too and we still do many of the same things, although there are different things too. This group of guys with Coach Cox, I feel like we relate to him and he’s able to touch each guy differently… and be able to connect with every guy differently. I think that helps bring the most out of everyone on this team.
CD: Coach Cox has remarked about this team’s developing resiliency. Do you feel or see development here?
CT: I definitely feel that. After the College of Charleston game [a loss] we were on the bus and Coach sent me a text and said good game. I texted him back and said “I could’ve done more.” Basically, it’s all about we how react to that loss, so being resilient is a big key. We knew there’d be times we lost games we should’ve won… but it’s all about learning and growing as a younger team. It’s about how we react and he’s been preaching that.
CD: Thanksgiving week here… any shout outs?
CT: Shout out to my family who supported me when I was thinking I was done with basketball and not able to come back and be how I was before… And now I feel much better than I was before… For keeping on me. Not giving up; shout out to my family.
Watch Rhode Island vs Stony Brook on Saturday, November 24th at 2:00 pm ET on YurView, Cox channels 4 and 1004 in Rhode Island.