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Seems like old times for Thompson

HANOVERTON — Ever since his playing days as a point guard at United Local High School, Jason Thompson always thought about returning to his alma mater as a coach.

“It’s something that’s always been in the back of my mind,” Thompson said.

That moment is here.

Thompson, a 2001 United graduate, was officially hired as the Golden Eagles’ boys basketball coach last week by the board of education. He takes over for Chris Kadvan, who stepped down in June after a 56-85 record in six seasons.

Thompson previously had a successful run as the Lisbon girls basketball coach from 2011-2016 during which he went 74-66. Thompson led the Blue Devils to their first league championship in 20 seasons in 2016 before stepping aside to spend more time with his family. He spent last season as the seventh-grade boys coach at United.

“With United being my alma mater, the job kind of tugged at me,” Thompson said. “Over the summer, I had some parents encourage me to throw my hat into the ring. After talking it over with my wife, we decided the time was right.”

Thompson chose to get back into high school coaching just in time for a season that could be the most unusual anyone can remember.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Golden Eagles, along with everyone else, have been working out this summer under strict guidelines. Nobody knows what the situation will look like when official practices and games are scheduled to begin later in the fall.

“We’ve done a temperature and symptom check on everyone right when they enter the gym,” Thompson said. “Everyone has their own water and we make sure to keep everyone is spread out except when we scrimmage each other. I’ve worn a mask the whole time. It’s a lot different for sure. You have to deal with a lot of things that you don’t normally think about.”

Thompson, who said he had 24 players show up last week, has only had the chance to conduct two workouts so far with his team. He said the Eagles are currently planning for two workouts a week through the end of August.

With much still unknown about what winter sports will ultimately look like this year, Thompson is keeping his focus on what he can control.

“Right now, I’m just trying to get acclimated with the team and take each day as it comes,” Thompson said. “The kids have handled everything really well, they’ve done a great job staying positive and following all of the guidelines. They’ve been doing it with football for a while now, so it’s almost become second nature to them.”

The Eagles are looking to turn back in the right direction after stumbling to a 3-20 season with a team that featured no seniors and that saw both returning lettermen slowed with football injuries. The Eagles had been coming off of four straight seasons with double-digit victories.

“We have everyone coming back from last year, so that certainly helps,” Thompson said. “At this early stage, the biggest thing that’s stuck out to me is the overall team athleticism. I think we have the type of players that will allow us to really push the tempo this year. They also all enjoy sharing the ball and encouraging each other, which is a rare thing to have.”

Thompson enjoyed plenty of memories as a four-year letterwinner with United, but the one that sticks out the most was his final game, when the Eagles matched up with LeBron James and his nationally-ranked Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary team in a Division III sectional final before a sold-out crowd at Cabas Gymnasium in Salem.

Though the Irish rolled to a 99-42 win on the way to a second straight state title, Thompson played one of his best games and scored a season-high 22 points, even outscoring James, who finished with 19 points and three dunks in 2 1/2 quarters.

“It’s something I’ll remember the rest of my life,” Thompson said. “Just stepping onto the floor in front of that type of crowd was an incredible experience. I remember LeBron jumping over me and dunking on an alley-oop. I went to box him out and just saw his shoe go right past my head.”

While his current team isn’t likely to be facing any future NBA legends, Thompson hopes some more exciting basketball isn’t far away at United.

“I’m just overwhelmed to be back here coaching,” Thompson said. “We’ve got a great group of guys and I’m excited to see what we can accomplish.

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