A brutal loss to end a difficult season was enough to test Mikey Thompson’s resolve, but the worst was yet to come.
Just after Boise State’s one-point loss to Dayton in the NCAA Tournament in March, Thompson’s father, Freddie, told him he was dying of pancreatic cancer. Two weeks later, on April 2, Freddie passed away at 55.
“I know he had been sick, but didn’t know anything about it until then,” Thompson said.
A starter in 20 games last season as a junior, Thompson had just finished a 2014-15 basketball campaign that had more lows than highs. Though he finished fourth on the team with 7.6 points per game, he shot just 28.7 percent in Mountain West play and was suspended for three games in February for a violation of team rules.
Thompson will get plenty of chances to be a strong leader this season, grooming freshman Paris Austin at point guard and trying to motivate the team’s seven freshmen and sophomores.
“The experience factor, he’s played in big games, he’s been through the ringer, he played in big wins and tough losses, he’s been through it,” coach Leon Rice said. “You can hang your hat on a guy like that.”
In the offseason, Thompson said he spoke with his mother, stepfather and coaches, looking back at the second half of his season and knew it couldn’t be repeated if he wants to reach his goal of playing professionally. A few more gym sessions than usual have been part of his preseason routine when healthy, and teammates have said he’s become a better shooter.
“He’s definitely got a certain focus about him that he wants to prove something for himself and his team,” fellow fifth-year senior guard/forward Anthony Drmic said.
Making Thompson even more eager is a knee injury that sideline him nearly the entire preseason, including Friday’s exhibition victory over Northwest. He had arthroscopic surgery before practices began, and only recently was cleared for full participation. He will make the trip for Friday’s opener at Montana and is expected to play.
“It’s been hard, when you see guys struggling a bit and you can’t go out there to help,” Thompson said. “I had to stay patient, not go too hard and reinjure myself, just make sure I had my mind and my body right to be ready for (Montana).”
Coming into Mountain West play last season, Thompson was a 42.0 percent career shooter, with a knack for slashing to the basket. Late in this season, he should approach the 1,000-point mark if he can maintain his career average of 8.1 ppg (he has 758). It’s a plateau only 24 other Broncos have reached.
His father, a former UNLV standout nicknamed “Machine Gun,” was an assistant at Canyon Springs High in Las Vegas when Mikey led the school to a state title as a senior. He’ll utilize the two biggest keys his father taught him as he looks to go out on top.
“Be aggressive, stay focused,” Thompson said.
“I have to use everything he taught me to better myself. I know he’s going to be watching over me. I have a lot to play for. I’m going to play for him, my family, my hometown, for Boise, for my teammates.”
Boise State at Montana
▪ What: Season opener for both teams
▪ When: Friday, 7 p.m.
▪ Watch/listen: Stream available via GoGriz.com for a 24-hour pass ($6.95), audio stream free at BroncoSports.com, radio broadcast live on KBOI 670 AM
Boise State men sign two guards; women add four
▪ The men signed a pair of versatile scorers who coach Leon Rice said are ideal fits for his system. Alex Hobbs, from La Porte (Texas) High, averaged 27 points and 8.5 rebounds as a junior. Justinian Jessup, from Longmont (Colo.) High, was the Colorado 4A player of the year.
▪ The women signed four: guard Braydey Hodgins from Chiawana High (Pasco, Wash.), guard Riley Lupfer from Lewis and Clark High in Spokane, forward Emerald Toth from Bozeman (Mont.) High and guard/forward Jordan Woodvine from South Salem (Ore.) High.