I first heard of Pine Bluffs’ Hunter Thompson playing AAU ball when my colleague Dave Shelles wrote this Prep Athlete of the Week feature on him in 2014. I heard more about it when my friend Jack Nowlin of the Casper Star-Tribune wrote this feature on Thompson to start the 2014-15 season.
I was really intrigued by the Utah portion of the 6-foot-10 sophomore’s AAU exploits that Nowlin wrote about. Cheyenne East graduate and current Toronto Raptors power forward James Johnson played with a Denver-based AAU team when he caught the attention of Division I schools in 2006. I know a few more Cheyenne kids have played with teams along the Front Range, the Cheyenne-based Wyoming Flight basketball program has also gotten off the ground in the past few years.
But it struck me as odd that Thompson would go to Utah for his AAU ball.
So I asked Thompson about it when I interviewed him for this Prep Athlete of the Week feature in mid-January. I couldn’t find a good way to include that portion of our conversation into my story. I’ve been wanting to turn it into a blog post for the longest time, so here it is:
Thompson has been spending one month of each summer with his paternal aunt and her family in St. George, Utah, since he was a fourth-grader. During that month, Thompson would play in AAU tournaments throughout the western U.S. Most recently, he played with Utah Select but he is moving on to the Salt Lake-based Utah Prospects program this summer.
“We played them in the platinum bracket of a tournament in Las Vegas last Easter and they beat the crap out of us,” Thompson said of the Prospects. “Their coach sought me out and said he was really impressed with how I handled myself and how I played and asked me to play on their team.”
The Utah Prospects’ under-16 team is ranked 25th in IndiHoops.com’s most recent national rankings.
The aforementioned local basketball talents have been a short drive from their AAU teams, which makes regular practice relatively easy. Thompson, however, only practices with the Prospects at tournaments.
The Prospects will play at a Dallas event next weekend and and Indianapolis tournament the weekend after that. Thompson’s flights are paid for through Prospects sponsors.
Utah will compete at a tournament in Compton, California, the same weekend as the Wyoming Class 2A state track and field meet (May 21 through 23). Thompson will compete at state track and then fly to Compton.
The Prospects’ schedule also includes July events in Chicago, Las Vegas and Milwaukee.
Thompson is a two-time all-state selection and has averaged 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1 steal across 55 games for Pine Bluffs. The Hornets have gone 41-14 over the past two seasons. They placed third at the Class 2A state tournament this winter and were fourth in 2014.
While Thompson was dominant throughout the year, his stats don’t identify what was possibly his greatest contribution to the Hornets this season.
“Down low, people’s eyes go to Hunter Thompson,” said senior forward Scott Gross, who was a two-time all-state honoree. “They go to the 6-10 athlete, who is probably going to be player of the year. It takes attention from other people so they can dive in.
“Earlier in the year, we were stagnant. We’d throw the ball in to Hunter and step back and wait to see a dunk or something cool like that.That’s great to do for a while but, eventually, teams started putting two, three and even four kids on him. We had to learn to go help him out.
“We learned to get the ball to Hunter and move as much as we could so things would open up for him and us. We had to be dynamic. We had to make teams respect the other players on our team.”
Thompson has been offered a scholarship by the University of Wyoming and also has talked to Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Creighton, Gonzaga, New Mexico State, Stanford, Utah and Utah State. Creighton coach Greg McDermott thought enough of Thompson’s talents that he, assistant Patrick Sellers and another assistant stopped by the Class 2A state tournament to watch Pine Bluffs beat Lyman on March 5.