St. Andrew's Sharpshooter Will Thompson Takes His Shot: Commits to Oglethorpe University for Academics and Hoops Dream

By Nathan Domintz/Special to Prep Sports Report | March 14, 2024

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Having a shooter’s mentality, Will Thompson is going to take his shot.

That applies to the past two seasons as a standout on the St. Andrew’s School basketball team and to his next step in choosing a college.

The senior has options. With a 4.0 grade-point average for his high school career, including since his transfer to the Wilmington Island school and its International Baccalaureate program before his junior year, Thompson has gained admission into excellent universities.

He considered Georgia, Georgia Tech and Clemson. But they shared one drawback. He didn’t see a feasible way for him to play college basketball.

“It came down to whether basketball was really what I wanted to do and follow my dream,” Thompson said this week.

Instead, he will sign Thursday with Oglethorpe University in the Atlanta area, which as an NCAA Division III program doesn’t offer athletic scholarships. The straight-A student has the grades to earn academic scholarships and the 6-foot-2 shooting guard has the game to play at this level.

Oglethorpe’s Stormy Petrels play at a fast pace and shoot a lot of 3-pointers under Philip Ponder (head coach since 2003-04, with the program 27 seasons), so they’re definitely a good fit, Thompson said. It also has a small student-to-teacher ratio, like 10- or 12-to-1, he added.

“Oglethorpe has everything that I would want,” Thompson said. “It’s almost like a gut feeling, too. As soon as I would second-guess myself about the decision, Oglethorpe would keep coming back in my mind. It just felt right.”

Thompson said he also had offers to play basketball at Division III Transylvania University in Lexington, Ken., and Oxford College of Emory University, a two-year program in Oxford, Ga.

His parents are both doctors and are “heavy on academics,” he said. His father Will, a neurosurgeon, and his mother, Leigh, a pediatrician, support his decision.

“They were trying to say to really consider the other schools just because of how good they are academically and setting me up for my career,” said Thompson, who plans to major in psychology but leaves open the possibility of becoming a physician. “But really, Oglethorpe has that and also the bonus of me following my dream to play college basketball.”

It’s a dream he had as a young boy, though it was playing for a big-time power like Duke. He had tempered that big goal to his present reality when he was enrolled at Benedictine.

“My freshman and sophomore years of high school, I wasn’t really thinking about playing college ball,” Thompson recalled. “I was just trying to make the team, make varsity, get some playing time, stuff like that.”

He heard a coach talking about a Division III program and that sparked an awareness that perhaps there were more opportunities within his reach if he worked for it.

The first step was to transfer to St. Andrew’s, where Mel Abrams had just guided the Lions to the 2021-22 GIAA Class 3A state championship with a 25-4 record. When Thompson joined the fold, the Lions were even better, going 28-1 in 2022-23 for back-to-back crowns.

“He made us just a whole different ballclub with his ability to space the floor and create (shots), shooting from distance,” Abrams recalled this week. “Just made us a complete and more well-rounded team.”

Abrams called the Lions even more dangerous offensively with Thompson joining forces in the 2022-23 season with senior Zyere Edwards, the GIAA Player of the Year, along with his brother, sophomore Zayden Edwards, and senior Kaleb Lofton, now playing in Lookout Mountain for Covenant College, a regular opponent for Oglethorpe.

Thompson averaged 11.1 points and shot 39.2 percent (78 of 199) on 3-point attempts in 29 games to earn all-region and honorable mention all-state honors with the champion Lions.

Bigger impact this season

He took on more of a leadership role for his senior season, when he averaged 16.7 points and smashed the school record for 3-pointers in a season, making 130 in 322 attempts (40.4 percent) in 30 games. Zyere Edwards, who went on to play this season at Augusta University, held the old mark for just one year at 90.

“(Thompson) is an elite shooter. I don’t say that lightly,” said Abrams, who played professional basketball overseas. “I’ve seen great shooters. I played internationally for seven years. I played in Lithuania for two years, where great shooting is kind of bred in that country. He is a game-changing shooter. He creates gravity when he’s on the floor. His ability to shoot opens up so many different things on the floor offensively.”

Abrams believes having the confidence to take clutch shots, even if the aim has been off, is a unique talent. He said Thompson’s accuracy is elite, especially with the high volume of shots beyond the arc.

“Being a great shooter and a competent shooter comes from repetition,” Abrams said. “I don’t think you can be confident if you haven’t put the work in.”

When it comes to work ethic, calling Thompson a gym rat isn’t quite accurate. That’s because he supplements the reps at the school gymnasium with more at the hoop in his driveway – to the tune of 500 shots a day.

That’s the target, which he aims for six days a week but usually takes shots on his rest day as well. Sometimes before school – the earliest he recalled was 5 or 5:30 a.m. – and sometimes as late as midnight on the lit driveway.

He’s by himself, with a shooting machine’s netting attached around the basket so the basketballs, whether on or slightly off target, get funneled and passed back out to him for a spray pattern of jumpers.

“When you’re by yourself, it’s kind of easier to lock in,” Thompson said. “Especially when it’s constantly shooting back at you, you have to stay focused or it’ll go off your hands or go by you.”

He might take more than 500 shots, and also work on dribbling and other drills. The most shots in one day? He’s not sure, but “definitely over a thousand.”

It’s a means to an end, to improve himself and be able to take his shot and make it.

“I definitely had to work for the confidence I have on the court,” Thompson said. “Sometimes, it’s going to be up and down, even with the work you put in. That’s something I went through to start the season, just mentally.

“Confidence is what makes or breaks players. If you get enough reps, getting shots up on a shooting machine or something like that, that’s how you’re going to build your confidence.”

Facing stiff competition

It fits well with the culture of the Lions squad, which went 22-8 this season and defeated several area GHSA schools – including Class 3A finalist Johnson and Class A Division I semifinalist Savannah High as well as SCISA Class 3A state champion Hilton Head Prep.

“We’re finding ourselves kind of always trying to prove that we’re a legitimate program, for whatever reason,” Abrams said. “Being able to play some of the teams we haven’t played over the last few years locally and having the success we had speaks to the quality of the program, the quality of players we have. People like Will, who was able to show well in a lot of those games, it just was a great opportunity for them individually as players who play at the next level, and collectively as a team, as a program. I think that showed well.”

Two of the Lions’ losses were to GIAA Class 2A state champion Furtah Prep in the regular season, and to Lakeview Academy in the Class 3A state semifinals 56-54 on a shot with 1 second left on Feb. 28. Lakeview went on to win the championship.

“Very emotional,” Thompson said of his final high school game – but not his last basketball game. “I think that’s why I was able to move on from it a little easier.”


PHOTO CREDIT: St. Andrew's School Maria Dixon Director of Media/Will Thompson's social media page


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