Thursday, May 22, 2014

the transfer: Darius Thompson

Name: Darius Thompson
Position: PG
Hometown: Murfreesboro, TN
School: Blackman HS / Tennessee
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 181

I would say at this point it's a good idea to dispense with the notion that Tony Bennett cares very much about roster management, in the sense of trying to even out the classes.  Tony will just plug every spot he can and worry about stuff later.  It makes sense; there are so many variables for the future that, why worry about them now when instead you can act on what you can control?

It's in this vein that Tony went all-out in filling the last available scholarship slot, as vacated by Teven Jones, rather than save it for the 2015 class.  Something about birds in the hand.  After App State transfer Devonte Graham headed to Kansas, Tony focused on Ukrainian import Sviatoslav Mikhailyuk and Tennessee transfer Darius Thompson.  Thompson jumped first; Mikhailyuk, shortly thereafter, went to Kansas as well.

That fact may well doom Thompson to a career of being compared to Mikhailyuk, considered a future NBA talent in the making.  Mikhailyuk is just 16 going on 17, and because of his age will have to wait two more years before being draft-eligible, maybe three if the NBA succeeds in boosting the minimum age from 19 to 20.  Thompson, for his part, has played just one year at Tennessee, and so, like Anthony Gill, will sit one year and then have three seasons of eligibility.

Other than the guys on the extreme ends, like London Perrantes and Mike Tobey, I've found it more useful to think of Tony's players not as 1s, 2s, 3s, and so on, but 1.5s, 2.5s, 3.5s, and so on.  Some debate exists as to whether Thompson is a 1 or a 2; he's theoretically too big for a one but theoretically doesn't shoot well enough for the two.  Like so many others, he's a bit of a tweener, occupying the same combo-ish spot that Malcolm Brogdon does.  Thompson does lean more toward the one side of the spectrum than Brogdon.

A little background: Thompson was a late-blooming member of the class of 2013, who snuck into the very back end of the Rivals 150 by the end of the season.  He earned a handful of major offers, largely from teams at the bottom of major conferences - think Auburn, Purdue, Texas A&M. Originally committed to Vanderbilt, he changed his mind a month later and chose Tennessee after another month or so of recruiting.  UVA was sniffing around at the time but either was too late, didn't offer, or both.  Many of the same teams were after him when he decided to leave UT in the wake of Cuonzo Martin's departure; Purdue, for one.

Thompson was one of six players to play in every one of Tennessee's games this past season, mostly as the backup point guard.  Even in playing just under 17 minutes a game - sixth-most on the team - he led the team in steals and was second by just a shade in assists.  His turnover rate was very high but his assist rate was outstanding, especially for a freshman.  It also just so happens that he had the second-highest two-point shooting percentage on the team.  Mainly this is a function of getting to the rim; he didn't shoot many two-point jumpers.  Handily enough, he was also a respectable free-throw shooter at 74.2%.  The black mark on his game: a pitiful 3-point percentage of .195.  Nobody shoots that badly in high school and gets offers from major programs, so the ability to do better is probably there, and a strength of Tony Bennett is balancing shot discipline with the keep-firing mentality that shooters need.

It's those steals that probably intrigued Tony the most, though.  Or really, his defense overall.  He was top 50 in the country in KenPom's steal %age stat, and is reported to have a tremendous wingspan for his size.  He's tall and really, really gangly, but moves well and has potential to be a truly elite on-ball defender, as well as a great denier of passing lanes to the interior.

Thompson will have to sit a year, as mentioned, but barring transfers, that year won't do anything to open up any room in the backcourt.  Only Darion Atkins graduates, and Thompson will start his sophomore year in 2015 with some pretty established players.  Perrantes will be a junior and Brogdon a senior, with Devon Hall and B.J. Stith having a full season to establish their spot on the pecking order.  All but Brogdon will still be around the following year, too.  Playing time for Thompson, then, will be more a function of the result of competition than of waiting out a few graduations.  Working in his favor is that he's more of a point guard than anyone on the roster except Perrantes, and perhaps Hall - though we truly know very, very little about the latter.  That made him much more of a positional need than Mikhailyuk, who would've been in competition with Justin Anderson, Marial Shayok, and to some extent Brogdon and even Evan Nolte and perhaps B.J. Stith for his playing time.  If Thompson's reputation as a defender is true to form, it's very hard to envision him not making it onto the court.  He should be able to carve out a much larger role than, say, Teven Jones ever could; leapfrogging Perrantes would be a much taller task, but Tony's mix-and-match strategy with his ballhandlers will boost his minutes as well.  I wouldn't expect Thompson to ever be among the team's most prolific scorers, but he was a key member of a very talented eventual Sweet 16 team - and is likely to be so again.

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