UMass basketball freshman Keon Thompson stays ready for his moments

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 01-06-2023 5:56 PM

Saint Louis point guard Yuri Collins stepped backward to avoid a Dyondre Dominguez screen. He followed the scouting report on UMass freshman point guard Keon Thompson, who had missed the first nine triples of his career.

Thompson rose without hesitation and fired.

“I was trying to run a play to get RJ (Luis) a shot. And they didn’t guard him coming off the ball screen because that’s what most people most teams are doing,” UMass coach Frank Martin said. “He made the right read. He shot it like, ‘I make 70% of my shots.’ I don’t think it’s a shot I wanted to shoot that point in the game, but I was really proud of the confidence that he showed for himself in that moment.”

The triple boosted UMass’ lead to eight after Saint Louis had cut it to five and helped the Minutemen repel a late Billikens charge Wednesday for their first Atlantic 10 win. UMass visits George Washington on Saturday (2 p.m. USA).

Thompson, a freshman from Merillville, Ind., had spent the previous two days working with assistant coach Brian Steele on his game. The Hargrave Military Academy product struggled at Saint Bonaventure in the conference opener with three turnovers and went 0-for-4 from the field.

“Working hard, playing my hardest comes natural with me. I’ve never been a guy who slacks off or takes the easy route out,” Thompson said.

UMass (10-4, 1-1 A-10) found out quickly what it had in Thompson. He’s averaged nearly 16 minutes a game and appeared in 13 of the Minutemen’s 14 games in a backup point guard role. Thompson was often the first guard off the bench to relieve starter Noah Fernandes even before he injured his ankle against Harvard.

“He’s just so open to learning and working hard. Having that kind of perspective on basketball is a key to having a good future in basketball because things are gonna get hard, things aren’t gonna go your way,” Fernandes said. “If you have that resilience, and discipline to just keep working is huge, and Keon has that. It’s really impressive.”

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Thompson didn’t start any of the five games Fernandes missed but played more minutes than the starter Rahsool Diggins in two of them and as many in one more. Fernandes became a teacher as much as a teammate during that stretch.

“It really taught me how much responsibility our point guard has. Noah’s is a big piece that we really value on this team, and him giving me the confidence and the advice when he is out still means a lot to me,” Thompson said. “The team really values the point guard spot in college. Without a successful point guard, the team can really fall out, fall apart easily. I gained some trust, a lot of trust from people.”

That trust is as important to Thompson as the playing time. He’s derived as much confidence from it as he does making shots.

“It’s definitely important. It tells you that whatever you’re doing right is working, and you got to continue to prove your worth and continue to gain to gain confidence,” Thompson said. “Gaining that respect and trust from the coaches and the other players really gives you a confidence boost throughout the season.”

He’s comfortable coming off the bench. Though he’d start if the team needed.

“It doesn’t ever really matter to me,” Thompson said. “I always learned as a kid always be prepared for the moment no matter what the moment or when the moment will come.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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