Raider’s impact defined in layersJanuary 3, 2014
By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor
The words are emblazoned on a dry-erase board. Only these are in vinyl lettering and can’t be blotted out with the swipe of a finger.
Athlete. Scholar. Role model. And then the word “always” in quotation marks, serving as Cody Thompson’s reminder that it’s simply never an option to take five on any of those initiatives.
His uncle Jeff Thompson gave Cody the board as a middle-schooler, with the grander purpose of scrawling his future goals on it. The board is still displayed in his bedroom, and the goals are written in marker. They may as well be etched in permanent vinyl letters, too, because whatever Cody Thompson sets out to do, Cody Thompson generally gets done.
Athlete, scholar, role model. It’s a tidy synopsis of his four years at Southridge.
Raider basketball coach Jeremy Rauch has seen a photo taken two years ago at the team’s preseason Raider Night exhibition, where Thompson indulges the urging of young fans and dunks the ball.
Clearance isn’t a problem. The snapshot shows Thompson with his elbow in the rim and his arm submerged in the basket.
Those are garden variety exhibitions for a guy who has high-jumped 6 feet, 6 inches in track. (Look at the top of a doorway, and imagine hurling your body up and over that height. Without the aid of a ladder.) But it’s not as if Thompson lucked into winning the genetic Powerball. Much of the success has self-made roots.
When he was 8, Thompson wasn’t picked for the baseball all-star team after making it the year before. But there was no moping; the Thompson household is one of those where “I can’t” is officially a forbidden phrase. His father, Scott, advised Cody that if he wanted to be better, he simply had to work harder.
His mother, Amanda, stressed the importance of not only setting goals, but writing them down as a reminder until they’re completed. Scott was the gentle dispenser of athletic advice — but only if and when Cody determined that he wanted to get more serious with sports.
“I was never the best,” Cody says. “I was always a good player ... but I wouldn’t be a standout in anything.”
Around seventh or eighth grade, the vectors changed. He discovered his coordination. He began putting in hours outside of basketball practice and ate up advice from Scott, a SHS graduate who played for a year at Danville (Ill.) Community College. His organic ability began to blossom, too, as Thompson set the middle school high jump record.
He’s continued to ascend, but not without a setback.
At the outset of his sophomore year, Thompson was an occasional starter in the hoops lineup. His playing time waned as the year progressed. And in the sectional game, a tight eight-point loss to Evansville Mater Dei, Thompson never got off the bench.
“That motivated me so much more than anything that could have happened during that season,” he says. “Looking back on it, I’m kind of upset at what I did, because I had my spot, and I kind of got complacent, and by the end of the season I wasn’t starting or getting as much playing time because I kind of quit working. Looking back on it now, I see how much better I could have become and where that would have helped me (now).”
But, back to that rule: no sulking.
At the end of each season, Rauch has one-on-one evaluations with each player. The coach outlined his plea: be more aggressive and attack the rim. The first game of Thompson’s junior year provided proof of reform, when Thompson took off from outside the block to try and dunk on Gibson Southern’s Spencer Schmitt, likewise a rangy jumper.
From improving his left hand to lowering his release point on a jump shot that now carries range to near the 3-point circle, Thompson has been attentive to the necessary upgrades, Rauch said. And those are worthy accents to being 6-foot-5 with spring-loaded legs.
“He’s kind of taken the group on his back,” Rauch says.
“A big thing with Cody is he’s gotten a lot more confident, and confidence comes with the work you put in, the preparation that you have. He’s had two really, really good summers after his sophomore year and junior year. He made some tremendous strides in each of his offseason workouts, and I think that we’ve seen the results of that.”
Leading receiver in football, top rebounder and shot-blocker in basketball this season, and three-time sectional high jump champion with a rare shot at a four-peat this spring.
So, what on earth is Thompson not good at?
“Singing and dancing is not my thing. Not at all,” he acknowledges with a smile. “I sure try sometimes, but it’s just not very good. Dances, I usually kind of embarrass myself a little bit, but I’m OK with that.”
He hasn’t received anything below an A on his report card since last decade. There’s been no blemish since a B-plus in middle school art class. He’ll probably be studying pharmacy in college at this time next year, though Thompson could probably hack it on his vocab skills, too.
“Some of the words he uses, I don’t even know,” Raider junior guard Connor Craig says. “He’s so smart, it’s unreal.”
Another one of those goals on the dry-erase board is about to be checked off, too.
Many of Thompson’s missions were athletically based: Play in at least one varsity game as a freshman. (Accomplished it in football.) Start every game junior and senior year. (He’s done it in both football and basketball.) Then, there’s the goal of being valedictorian, which Thompson’s on track to accomplish. He’s still waffling between Butler and Purdue for college but knows he wants to eventually run his own pharmacy — fitting with another piece of counsel that Cody has repeatedly heard.
“One thing we’ve always told him is, ”˜Be the boss,” Scott says, “don’t be the person who’s told what to do.’”
Last week, the Raiders gathered as a team to catch a movie. And this was not a Cody Thompson-sanctioned outing.
He’s usually the one to organize everything and make sure everyone’s on time. But this time, he didn’t. So, the group didn’t roll out of Huntingburg until eight minutes before the movie’s scheduled start time in Jasper. They got settled into their seats just as “Anchorman 2” was starting.
Thompson, who was silently a bit irritated at the late arrival, is the guy who binds everything, the one who sets the pace.
“I think it’s natural for me,” says Thompson, who similarly organizes things like camping trips, laying out who’s bringing everything from food to football. “I try to take over and get everything organized, because I want everything to be right or we know what we’re doing. For me, that’s just kind of who I am.”
A few days ago at Huntingburg Memorial Gym, Thompson was exempt from end-of-practice running as the reward for finishing first in a series of one-on-one competitions earlier in practice. While others sprinted, Thompson doled out encouragement to everyone, from Craig at the head of the pack to the last guy bringing up the rear.
The steady 12.4 points and 8.4 rebounds he’s averaging in hoops earn him the most acclaim, but Scott may be more proud of the way Cody relates to his only sibling, Ella, who’s only 7. Last week’s Graber Post Buildings Classic was the latest instance of the duality of his leadership. On Saturday, he was named the tourney’s FCA Character Counts award winner. A few days prior, Craig notes, Thompson demanded better defense when Southridge trailed Brownstown Central by 17 points, and shortly later the Raiders re-energized and buzzed that margin as close as six points.
“It’s just the way he goes about it,” Craig said. “He always battles during the game, and we follow off him. Whatever he does, we do, too.”
Contact Brendan Perkins at email@example.com.
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