The rims were exhausted. Shots were hoisted, the ball clanking away time and again.
Nobody could hit a jump shot Friday night as Crenshaw hosted King/Drew in a battle for the Coliseum League title, the game remaining scoreless through the first four minutes. Nobody could find an offensive rhythm, points exchanged like precious gemstones in the medieval era.
Nobody except King/Drew sophomore Donald Thompson, a lanky dead eye who shoots like Lonzo Ball. He plays free. Loose. With “swag,” as Golden Eagles coach Lloyd Webster put it. It’s necessary to have one of those guys when you’re struggling to score.
And with the score tied at 46 in a back-and-forth fourth quarter and less than a minute left, King/Drew freshman JayShaun Kibble flung a pass to the corner to Thompson, who buried another massive three-pointer.
“Boom!” Thompson mouthed at Crenshaw’s bench.
His 22 points led King/Drew to a 53-50 victory. A program that has felt underappreciated all season knocked off Crenshaw to earn its fourth consecutive Coliseum League title.
“Happy as hell, really,” a beaming Thompson said after the game.
When the offenses were sputtering in the first half, Thompson was there, galloping and absorbing contact for two wild and-one finishes. When Crenshaw challenged after the break, taking a fourth-quarter lead after being down eight points in the third, Thompson was there, elevating for massive jumpers to swing the pendulum back in the Golden Eagles’ favor.
“We lost location of him,” Crenshaw coach Ed Waters said.
Thompson’s confidence is infectious, and the natural flair in his game makes perfect sense when glancing at the No. 24 on his Golden Eagles jersey. It’s a nod to grandfather John Smith — a Harlem Globetrotter whom Thompson watched while growing up.
After Thompson went slightly “overshadowed” last season as a freshman because of teammate Kalib LaCount, now a guard for East Carolina, he made massive strides with his ballhandling over the summer, Webster said.
“He’s become more confident and more comfortable with the ball,” Webster said. “And then of course the DNA, man, is showing out. … Maybe player of the year in this league.”
Thompson was supported Friday by timely shotmaking from LaCount’s brother Jacob and senior Josh Rivas, as well as tough rebounding from junior Sadiq Henry. The Golden Eagles are a much more dangerous team than their 14-14 record implies: King/Drew went through a tough schedule, losing games to strong Southern Section programs such as Sierra Canyon, Damien and Village Christian.
The Golden Eagles have been, perhaps, the sleeping giant of the City Section, dormant after a season of feeling overlooked, furiously awakened by a gleeful postgame celebration as members of the school’s football team formed an impromptu dance circle in the stands.
“Our guys not feeling they were getting the respect that they were supposed to get — it hardened them,” Webster said.