Leaving his mark
By Jordan Hall
At the young age of 17, senior Ryan Thompson was an under-recruited guard with a thin build and room for growth in his final year of high school hoops. But in his time as a Bronc, he transformed into a dynamic and versatile swingman who surpassed the mid-major label.
A wiry 6’4”, 175-pound star his senior campaign at Lenape High School, Thompson was just starting to become familiar with not being in the shadow of his big brother. That older sibling was Jason Thompson, who was currently a sophomore at Rider during a rebuilding season.
When Ryan Thompson had a college decision to make, the opportunity to remain out of that giant shadow presented itself. The standout guard had interest from other programs and received impressive scholarship offers from George Mason and Drexel, two of his top choices, along with Rider. In the end, Thompson chose to re-join his brother as a Bronc, where he would eventually develop into a 6’6”, 220-pound NBA-caliber player.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to play in his shadow in the beginning or make my own name,” Thompson said. “With my last two years, I feel like I made a name for myself.”
After two successful years of being Jason’s wingman, Thompson’s junior season arrived and the Broncs were now his team. His performance was nothing short of tremendous, leaving massive expectations for his senior season. The do-it-all talent was now on the nation’s map, receiving much-deserved attention. Thompson entered his final go-around as one of America’s premier swingmen, the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year, and had NBA scouts following him in bunches. With all this came the pressure and admittedly, it got to him.
“In the beginning, with the NBA looking around, it was a lot of pressure,” said Thompson.
Head Coach Tommy Dempsey understood why his leader fell in a funk.
“There was six, eight, 10 NBA teams every game so when he played poorly, he started to press because he wasn’t playing well, but most importantly, his team wasn’t,” Dempsey said.
The consistent performer became mired in a lengthy slump. Following a 16-point loss to Canisius on Jan. 22, the Broncs dropped to 10-11 overall, 3-6 in the MAAC, and lost six of its last eight contests. Thompson seemed out of sorts and never in rhythm. His usual stat-sheet-filling displays were non-existent and his reliable jump shot wasn’t falling.
But instead of dwelling on the past, Thompson showed resilience and focused on the present. The senior leader worked harder and, most of all, tried having some fun — and it paid dividends.
“I started playing my game and stopped worrying about all the outside factors,” Thompson said. “I just started having fun and enjoying my time I had left.”
Thompson finished his senior year as his old self, averaging 22.5 ppg. in the final 11 games, as the Broncs won six of their final nine regular season conference matchups and took Siena to the limit in the semifinals of the MAAC tournament.
Whether Thompson’s draft status dipped because of an inconsistent final year is unknown, but he certainly impressed professional scouts when the occasion arose. In an overtime loss to Rutgers on Dec. 15, there were eight NBA scouts in attendance with their eye on Rider’s leading scorer, and he didn’t disappoint. Thompson poured in a 26-point, eight-rebound, four-assist performance while scoring the game-tying basket to force the extra session. The prospect will have one more shot to impress scouts when he attends the Portsmouth Invitational on April 6.
The Mount Laurel native finished fourth on Rider’s all-time scoring list with 1,879 points and is the only player in program history to finish in the top 10 in points, rebounds (734) and assists (393).
“Ryan was probably the best combination of a big guard who can shoot, handle, pass and rebound,” Dempsey said. “He’s certainly one of the top five players to ever play here and arguably the most versatile.”
Thompson looks back and wouldn’t change anything. He loved his four years as a Bronc, as did Dempsey mentoring him.
“Ryan’s been with me my whole career here,” Dempsey said. “He’s helped this program in all aspects and that’s the mark of a great player. He’s been really important to me.”
Thompson will go down as one of the elite players to ever come through Rider and a young man who solely cared about winning as a team. He will not be known as Jason’s little brother anymore, but as himself: Ryan Thompson, a player who truly left his mark.