It's funny; one of the biggest beefs that most fans have with Rob Murphy circles around the r-word. "This team just feeds off of expedited junior college talent, but he's hardly recruiting any freshmen!" is something I hear a little too often. Sure, Karrington Ward probably wouldn't have found his way to Ypsilanti if it weren't for being a top JUCO talent in his home state of Illinois. Da'Shonte Riley, the first MAC Defensive Player of the Year in school's history, had to transfer out of Syracuse to play at EMU and be closer to home. Glenn Bryant was with Arkansas. Mike Talley was also originally from Detroit but was a transfer from Duquense.
Half of this year's roster include transfer players like Brandon Nazione, Ty Toney and Willie Mangum. The other half are players whose college careers began at Eastern Michigan, like Raven Lee, Tim Bond and Jordan Nobles. The team still has some work to do, and time is the best remedy for chemistry to continually iron itself out, but it's good to know that they may have found the 18-year old center that this program has been begging for.
James Thompson is the only player in the Mid-American Conference to average a double-double, and conference play starts sooner than you realize. Without Mike Samuels or Lekan Ajayi to play the position like we would've expected to happen at this point last year, a lot of responsibility was put on the late pick-up from Baton Rouge. The questions wasn't about whether the former South Carolina signee and heavily-recruited player could play, but it was whether or not the Thompson could play and stay out of foul trouble without too much depth behind him.
|Minutes||Points||Field goals||eFG%||Free throws||Rebounds (offensive)||Assists||Steals||Blocks||Fouls|
|vs. Vermont||26||9||4-9||0.444||1-2||11 (3)||0||1||3||4|
|@ Oakland||24||8||4-7||0.571||0-0||8 (5)||0||1||3||5|
|vs. Sienna Heights||26||6||2-3||0.667||2-3||9 (3)||0||0||5||5|
|@ Michigan State||31||6||3-9||0.333||0-3||9 (4)||0||0||2||4|
|vs. Marygrove||28||32||13-14||0.929||6-10||13 (4)||2||0||1||1|
|vs. Madonna||25||23||9-12||0.750||5-8||15 (6)||0||0||1||2|
|@ Neb.-Omaha||33||16||8-13||0.615||0-2||15 (8)||0||1||2||4|
|@ Penn State||39||18||4-5||0.800||10-14||14 (5)||1||2||2||4|
|vs. Rochester||26||17||7-10||0.700||3-5||11 (3)||1||1||3||0|
|@ Louisville||22||12||6-8||0.750||0-0||13 (7)||1||0||0||4|
|PER GAME||28||14.7||6-9||2.7-4.7||11.8 (4.8)||0.5||0.6||2.2||3.3|
|PER 40 MINUTES||21||16.9 (6.9)||3.1||4.7|
"He's really exceeding our expectations," head coach Rob Murphy told ESPN Louisville the day before the Eagles played against the ranked Louisville Cardinals team, "I know he has a lot of room for improvement, but we didn't know he was going to play this well this early.
"We're going to build around him into the future."
As they should, too. Thompson's not leading the conference in rebounds, field goal percentage and blocking just by beating up on schools from the NAIA, he's just getting adjusted to the college level. After a road loss to Michigan State, his streak began when the Eagles came back home to face off against Marygrove where he posted 15 points within the first eight minutes of the game. He'd later continue the streak playing 39 minutes, staying out of foul trouble for most of the game, grabbing 14 rebounds and 10 free throws at Penn State. Most recently, he had another big road game against Louisville where he grabbed four rebounds in the first five minutes of the game, finishing with 13 total with six field goals.
Fouling out in two games, including once early in the second half against Oakland, fouls are clearly an easy way to keep Thompson off the floor. "I learned that you can't always be aggressive," he told me after the game against Madonna. "Sometimes you just got to lay off because you can get into early foul trouble and I'm sitting down. So I've learned to just back off sometimes and try to jump straight up."
Maybe it's a little too premature to be saying that anybody should win any end-of-the-year award when we haven't even seen him play half of a season yet. Then again, it's not too early for this debate at all. When you look around at the other freshmen around the MAC, who else truly stands out?
Jordan Dartis could be a big impact for Ohio, leading the conference in eFG%. Marshawn Wilson for Northern Illinois is a good shooting threat. CJ Massinburg is also off to a good start with Buffalo averaging 22 minutes and nearly 11 points per game.
However, none of them have had the all-around presence like Thompson's shown so far. We'll know more about Thompson as the season progresses, as fatigue starts to set in with him and everybody else around the league, and see how he matches up against the experienced centers like Akron's Pat Fosythe, Toledo's Nathan Boothe and Kent State's Khaliq Spicer, and that's something for hoops fans to look forward to. Sure, most fans don't look forward to the months of November and December, because you can't win the MAC in non-conference play, that's the consensus for all 12 fan bases. However, the kid's having a memorable start to a promising college career, and it's fun for everybody to watch.
"I just want to win, that's it."