DENHAM SPRINGS – There was a time during the infancy stages of Kate Thompson’s AAU basketball career where the thought of playing in front of college coaches was unsettling.
Now the Denham Springs High School senior couldn’t imagine it any other way; a comfort the 6-foot-2 forward has discovered in her talents and in her ability to perform at her best under the scrutiny of those same college coaches.
“When I first started playing AAU and there were (college) coaches there, I was nervous,” Thompson said of her AAU career which began in the sixth grade and now consists of playing for the Lady Flames Elite. “Transitioning from the first time to now is so different. I’ve gotten used to it and it’s a lot of fun. I’m going to miss playing AAU. It’s one of my favorite things. I’ve benefitted a lot.”
College coaches would agree.
Thompson finds herself with faced with the life-altering decision she’s thought about for the past four to five years and with four months remaining until the start of the NCAA’s early signing period, her recruiting process has gained a bit of clarity.
She looks forward to reaching the finish line between Nov. 14-21, becoming the latest prospect from Denham Springs High to sign a basketball scholarship. It’s an event she first attended as a freshman, witnessed once again last year and embraces her own opportunity.
“When I was a freshman I went to Cristina Canale and Caroline Taylor’s signing and I was sitting around thinking that I could maybe do this one day,” Thompson said. “Then I saw Des (Desiree Jones) and Lex (Alexius Horne) do it last year. I was thinking I will have had to make a decision by this time next year. Now it’s here and it’s crazy how fast it went. Now I have to decide, knowing it’s about to happen.”
Thompson plans to take advantage of the early signing period, with the hope she’s navigated her way through a taxing span of her lifetime. She’s narrowed a group of 14 schools that offered scholarships to a list of five finalists that include Little Rock, Nicholls State, Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Mississippi and UL-Monroe.
She’s already taken one of her five official visits to Little Rock with no set timetable for the remainder of her four trips.
“It’s really stressful knowing that I have to make that kind of decision pretty soon,” she said. “It’s exciting to decide where I’m going to go and play. I’m so grateful to have these opportunities to go somewhere and play. It’s scary and I’m definitely looking forward to the visits.”
The trip to Little Rock provided a baseline for Thompson and the aspects of a school’s campus and program she’ll study closely over the course of her next four visits.
Those factors range from a close player-coach relationship, to “a feel” for the city and campus Thompson plans to call home for four years to the style of play, one that can best take advantage of her versatility to play inside or play on the perimeter where can she can shoot and drive.
“If it’s the right school I’m going to choose it,” said Thompson, who is undecided on a major. “I’d rather be closer to home, but I loved Little Rock, the campus and the city. If I felt like I’d fit in there (a school), it wouldn’t matter.”
Thompson averaged a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) during Denham Springs run to a Class 5A state runner-up finish to Captain Shreve.
She was a second team All-District 4-5A and All-Parish selection for first-year Denham Springs coach Blake Zito.
“To play against next-level players definitely helped me,” Thompson said of DSHS’ advancement to the state tournament. “It gave me exposure to what I’m going to be playing against in college. It helped me grow as a player.”
Six years after embarking on the start of AAU competition, taken aback by the glancing stares from college coaches, Thompson winds down that portion of her basketball exploits.
When the Lady Flames Elite compete in the Battle of the Bayou this week in New Orleans, followed by another national event in Irving, Texas, there will undoubtedly be a difference in the growth of Thompson – both in her game and the capacity to embrace the interested onlookers who hope to land her signature.
“I’m going to try and play my best,” Thompson said. “I hope to play as best as I can, so they know what I can offer to their school.”