ST. PAULS — Standing in the gym at St. Pauls High School on Monday with a Wilson basketball pressed against his hip, Corey Thompson reveled in the opportunity to come back home and coach basketball in his native county.
Thompson grew up in Lumberton, before becoming a star basketball player at Winston-Salem State and an assistant coach at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Fayetteville State University.
While he enjoyed his time at the college level, Thompson felt it was finally time to return to his roots.
“Coming from this area, moving on and being able to come back and pour into the youth here, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Thompson, the new boys basketball coach at St. Pauls.
“Being at the college level, kids are developed somewhat. Having the chance to work from the ground up, getting kids developed and sending them on … I’m looking forward to it.”
The hire was approved by the Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education at its July meeting. Thompson replaces Matt Hill, who accepted the head job at Lumberton earlier this summer.
Thompson comes to St. Pauls from Fayetteville State, where he served as an associate head coach for three seasons. Prior to coaching with the Broncos, Thompson spent five years at UNCP under coach Ben Miller.
Now, he’s looking to bring the knowledge he acquired at the college level to St. Pauls as he begins his first year as a high school coach.
Thompson said “knowing the ins and outs of what it takes to get to the college game” is an advantage as he takes over the Bulldogs.
“My whole mindset is I’m just going to come in and work,” he said. “This is my first year, but having that college experience, being a college recruiter, I know what the coaches are looking for.”
As a former terror in the paint for opposing players, the 6-foot-8 Thompson also knows what it takes to play college basketball. During his time at Winston-Salem State, he helped lead the program to a 97-25 record, four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances — including a pair of Swett 16 berths — and back-to-back CIAA conference titles.
“I will demand every day for players to do the small things,” Thompson said. “It’s more than the basketball court, it’s about the classroom and representing the community in the right way.”
For St. Pauls principal Jason Suggs, Thompson’s “overall experience” at the college level was a key factor in ultimately determining the hire.
“When I had the opportunity to get somebody with that kind of experience, it was a no-brainer,” Suggs said. “His work ethic speaks for itself. He’s stayed with it and shown what a vast amount of hard work and dedication can do.”
Thompson inherits a squad that posted a 26-25 record during Hill’s two seasons, including a pair of appearances in the 2A state playoffs. St. Pauls was 18-8 last season, earning the program’s best mark since the 1997-98 season.
As for the style he plans to bring to the program, Thompson said to expect an uptempo pace from the Bulldogs.
“I want (fans) to see a good brand of basketball,” he said. “Guys having fun playing, sharing the basketball, and just going hard. That’s my whole mentality.
“We’re going to play hard, together, and we’re going to share the basketball. If they play hard, we won’t have any problems.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.