‘It’s where I’m supposed to be’
LARAMIE -- Hunter Thompson will be the first to tell you that he doesn't do the Halloween thing.
He's a self-proclaimed "scaredy-cat."
"Trust me, I can’t even watch a scary movie," Thompson said. "I have to bring a sweatshirt and reverse it so I can cover my face when the scary parts come on. I tend to stay away from things like that."
The 2018-19 Wyoming basketball season is another terrifying visual.
The Cowboys went 8-24. They won just four Mountain West Conference games and watched a double-digit halftime lead evaporate in an opening round loss to New Mexico in the league tournament in Las Vegas.
That wasn't even the scary part.
The Pokes suffered one injury after another, including the season-ending kind to team leader, Hunter Maldonado. Justin James kept Wyoming in some games, other times, they were simply over-matched.
One player after another, it seemed, announced they were transferring from the program. It got so hairy midway through the season that Haize Fornstrom, a former football walk-on, was forced into action. Even trainers took turns at practice. Wyoming could barely field a team.
How's that for a straight to DVD slasher flick?
The sophomore big man from Pine Bluffs is looking ahead. Valuable lessons were learned last year, but that is in the past.
At Wyoming's annual media day, Thompson was all smiles. He's been working on what head coach Allen Edwards calls a "beach body" and is ready to showcase his inside-out game this winter and will show off the versatility and athleticism Thompson has in his repertoire even at 6 feet, 10 inches and 235 pounds.
"I need to take advantage of my mismatches," he said of his offensive mindset this season. "I still have a good, solid strength foundation where I can back people down. I can also use my skill set against bigger guys, too. I need to use my speed to get passed or my IQ to get a shot or step out."
Thompson averaged 8.8 points per outing last season and pulled down 2.9 rebounds in 22 starts for the Cowboys. His best game came against East Tennessee State where he sunk 25 points and hit seven three-pointers.
What we know Thompson brings to the table is grit on the defensive side. He finished with four blocks at Fresno State. He had a pair of steals against ETSU.
What doesn't show up on the stat sheet is his propensity for diving, crashing or flying into the stands to go after a loose ball. If there's a ball on the ground, Thompson is guaranteed to be in close proximity.
Where does that come from?
"Just being raised in Wyoming, I'd come and watch Cowboys basketball as a kid," he said. "There was always that one Wyoming kid that would get on the floor and sacrifice their body. I want younger Wyoming kids to come in and see me doing that an inspire them. That’s why I do it."
Thompson was just 4 years old in 2002, the last time the Cowboys won an NCAA Tournament game. Uche Nsonwu-Amadi, Josh Davis, Marcus Bailey and crew knocked off sixth-seeded Gonzaga, 73-66, in Albuquerque.
Jason McManamen, Adam Waddell and Cody Kelley were the guys Thompson looked up to. And they are all from the Cowboy State.
"He was really good for me," Thompson said of McManamen, "He came from a small school, too. That helped with the transition. (Kelley) and I are around the same age. I remember looking up to him just because he did come to Wyoming and was successful. That’s what I wanted for myself."
Highly recruited out of high school, Thompson initially signed with Creighton, a private school in Omaha, Neb., and a powerhouse on the hardwood.
Two weeks later, a sinking feeling overcame him. He had a decision to make. He knew what the right one was for him all along.
"What was I thinking?" he said with a smile. "I knew the whole time where I wanted to go. I knew growing up Wyoming, this is the place I wanted to play. When I committed to Creighton, it was a natural feeling. After I sat on it, I was like, I cant leave my roots. I'll admit, I'm a home body. I love being in Wyoming. I love being and hour-and-a-half from my family."
Thompson doesn't remember that Pokes team that stunned the nation in The Pit, but he does recall the 2007 WNIT Championship game.
He kept thinking back to the electric atmosphere. The 15,462 in attendance in the Arena-Auditorium that spring afternoon. The big victory. The crowd rushing the court. The shiny gold trophy hoisted skyward and the accompanying banner that still hangs high above today.
It was then, Thompson knew he wanted to be a part of this.
"It's just where I'm supposed to be," he added.
Like all of us, Thompson has no idea what this season will bring. He's confident in this bunch though. He likes the team camaraderie. He said Maldonado coming back is like having an extension of the head coach on the floor.
Mainly, he said this team enjoys being together. They come to work.
"They are just fun to be around," he said of this current squad. "Coming from a small school, whenever we do something, we do it as a team or a family. I feel that aspect off the court translating on the court."
He certainly doesn't want to watch the sequel to last season's "Nightmare on Willett Drive."
"We maybe were going through hell, but we have our brothers there to pick us up," Thompson said. "It's fun to be with close-knit guys, who are smart and want to work hard. They understand the circumstances we went through last year. They want to do whatever they can to help us. They felt our pain."