Thompson aims to take next step and entertain with exciting young talent

Published 8:44 pm Thursday, October 26, 2023

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

After a disappointing finish in 2022-23, the Thompson Warriors feel like this could be the year where they start to realize their potential as a program.

While the Warriors finished area play 1-6 and were bounced in the area tournament, second-year head coach DJ Black prioritized building up the youth who will be the foundation of the program for years to come, and it could pay off as soon as this year.

“We do have what you could consider a young team, but you could call it an experienced young team,” Black said. “We have a lot of young guys that have played a lot of high-level 7A basketball already and high-level AAU basketball.”

The Warriors return just one senior this year: Masiah Robinson, who went down with a season-ending injury against Hoover in area play. Now, Robinson is healthy and has stepped up as a key leader for this young team.

“It was a big blow to our team last year, so we’re excited to get him back,” Black said. “He’s back 100% healthy now, so we’re excited for a big year for him.”

Beyond Robinson, Thompson also brings back two additional starters in sophomores Jay Green and Colben Landrew. Both are highly touted prospects within the Class of 2026, and Landrew especially has risen quickly as a two-sport star with Power 5 offers in both basketball and football.

Another pair of impact players for the Warriors are Daeshaun Morrissette, a sophomore guard who played a contributing role last year but will step up this year, and freshman Cam Pritchett, another football player who will utilize his 6-foot-4, 200 pound frame as small forward after getting minutes as an eighth grader last year.

With a young team, there is always room for breakout players to emerge, and Thompson has a few that may play a key role this season. Carson McKenney is a 6-foot-7, 230-pound sophomore forward who Black said is highly skilled in addition to being the biggest player on the floor.

Konner Tayler is a junior guard who is playing into his role well, and Riley Bryant is a long freshman guard at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Black said that the team has grown a lot physically and mentally over the summer. The players enjoy competing with each other to help everyone get better, and that is making the Warriors a better and deeper team and raising every player’s profile, whereas in the past only one or two players got the spotlight.

Black has also enjoyed the leadership and maturity that they have shown despite most of the players being underclassmen, and all of those factors have made this a great group for him to lead.

“I don’t want to say they surprise me, but they surprised me for their maturity on the court in June for their age, and they continue to grow, continue to get better,” Black said. “This team has a great chemistry, a great feel to it, and they’re fun to coach. We talk about ‘iron sharpens iron’ as one of our mottos. And with that, the guys have embraced it, so it’s no longer, ‘I’m trying to beat this guy out for a position,’ it’s, ‘I’m trying to make this guy better.’ And that ultimately makes us better.”

As for the rest of Thompson’s system, the Warriors are different from many other teams because they don’t have a set system. Black has prioritized teaching players how to play versus what to play and trusting them to make decisions off ball screens and adapt into the style of play that they need to win the game.

“We always talk about how the read always trumps the call in our system,” Black said. “It’s the players, teaching them how to play, how to make those reads that is going to be what we do successful.”

Black hopes that by avoiding pigeonholing his players into a given scheme that they can succeed in many ways as a team, which, ultimately, helps each individual player become a complete athlete that is more appealing to recruiters because they can play in any system.

“I can sit here and say, ‘Yes, we want to play fast,’ but ultimately, we want to win,” Black said. “We want to put our guys in positions to be successful. So, I can’t tell you who the leading scorer is going to be, and to be honest, we don’t really care because that’s not what gets you recruited.”

Teaching players how to play the right way has been a point of emphasis and pride for the former college coach. Black argues that his players’ basketball IQ is an even greater strength than their talent alone.

“Obviously, with the talent, we have a high skill set, but the guys just know how to play the right way,” Black said. “That is probably the biggest strength of this team and this program.”

While the Warriors undoubtedly have great potential, success will be earned and not given. Come January, Thompson will battle Hoover, Vestavia Hills and Tuscaloosa County in area play, and Black expects a fight from all three of those teams.

He and the team are excited to face challenging opponents in and out of their area because they believe it prepares them well for the postseason.

With some of the best teams in the state passing through Warrior Arena this season and the exciting and talented players on the Warriors, Black hopes to bring fans from all over the area to see Thompson play.

His goal when he came to Thompson last year was to bring up the boys basketball program to the level of the other successful programs at the school, and now, he feels like the Warriors are closer to achieving that goal and bringing fans in droves to Alabaster.

“What I’m looking forward to is filling this arena, feeling the atmosphere, giving this team, these guys, a crowd to play in front of, almost make it like a show,” Black said. “We want to be The Show in Shelby County where people want to come watch the Thompson Warriors play because these guys are going to be a lot of fun to watch over the next couple of years.”