Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
Findlay College Prep senior power forward Tristan Thompson has nearly mastered Shakespeare as well as he figured out Tiny Gallon of Oak Hill Academy.
He joined the Pilots late last season to help them belt three foes, including Gallon and vaunted Oak Hill in the title game, to win the ESPN National high school championship and cap a 33-0 season.
This fall, Thompson believes he has Shakespeare’s number, too.
“Once you’ve read a few of Shakespeare’s novels, the cool thing is you know what’s going to happen, you just want to know how it’s going to happen,” Thompson says.
“The women die first, then everyone else. There are no happy endings in Shakespeare. I’m tired of happy endings. I want to hear about people that don’t make it happen.”
He credits English teacher Victoria Ginsburg for whetting his appetite for reading at the Henderson International School, with which Findlay is affiliated.
Thompson and his fellow classmates have chewed through Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Beowulf, and it’s currently digesting Frankenstein.
He’s looking forward to finding out what happens to the big bolt-necked monster.
“The hardest class is supposed to be English, but it’s the best,” Thompson says. “Miss Ginsburg is supposed to be so tough, but she’s like a mom away from home. I just love her class. She’s made me like English.”
Thompson and the rest of his teammates have taken their books on the road for the first time this season and will play IMG Academy of Florida today in the Tournament of Champions in Peoria, Ill.
It will be their first test away from the cozy confines of the Henderson International gym, where the Pilots won their first four games by an average score of 123-78.
After three games in Peoria, Findlay will also play two games in Kentucky, Columbus (Ohio) Northland High in its own gym and four games in a tournament in Fort Myers, Fla., by the end of December.
The consensus No. 1 prep team in the land, Findlay has seven new players, so veteran returnees Thompson, Godwin Okonji and Cory Joseph will be the rudders in the unfamiliar territory.
Thompson said new junior guards Jabari Brown, who leads the Pilots with 23.8 points a game, and Nick Johnson are well-schooled on the summer traveling circuit so these trips won’t surprise them.
“I think the difference will be the crowd, if it gets to them,” Thompson says. “If they see how Cory, Godwin and I react to the crowd, they’ll understand. Just don’t talk to the crowd or worry about all the noise. Don’t get scared.
“Sometimes, when you play before a big crowd, some kids might shoot air balls and be scared. I think they’ll be fine. It will be a whole new atmosphere, because we’re at a ‘legit’ high school program and not just a little local high school program.”
Thompson is second on the Pilots with 21.5 points a game, and he’s second (to Okonji’s 12) in rebounding average at 9.8. He leads the team in shooting (73.8 percent) and with 2.3 blocked shots a game.
His twists into the lane are always followed by strong moves, and finishes, to the rim, and the lefty has been using his other appendage, in passing and shooting leaning jumpers, this season.
However, the 6-foot-9, 240-pound interior force makes free throws at a 52.2 percent clip
“They’re like a little ant following you,” Thompson says. “I have to keep my focus, think that I’ll make every shot. Sometimes it’s frustrating, but I just have to worry about the next one. Don’t worry. I’ll get past it.”
He got past a rough stretch at Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict High late last season and landed softly at Findlay. Disagreements with coach Dan Hurley led to Thompson’s ouster.
He found a haven in the Henderson foothills at Findlay, and he provided huge sparks off the bench in Maryland to power the Pilots to a national crown in their third season.
“Mr. (Cliff) Findlay puts a lot of money into his program, and coaches (Mike) Peck and (Todd) Simon put a lot of time into this,” Thompson says. “When I go to bed, I thank the Lord that I’m in a perfect situation here.”
Peck is 69-1 in three seasons coaching the Pilots.
“I want to make them proud, and make myself and my family proud,” Thompson says. “I want to leave here with another national championship and be remembered as one of those guys who helped build the program.
“If you win one championship, you want to win more. I want to keep winning until I can’t play basketball anymore.”
Honoring a longtime verbal commitment, Thompson signed a letter-of-intent a couple of weeks ago to play at Texas, with former Findlay teammate Avery Bradley, next season.
No, Thompson says, he is not trying to persuade Joseph, the country’s best prep point guard, to be a Longhorn, too. Joseph has visited Texas, Connecticut, Villanova and Minnesota, and he will take his final official trip to UNLV next month.
Both hail from the Toronto area and they’ve been close friends for six or seven years, but Thompson insists that Joseph does not need anyone influencing his decision.
Thompson has seen plenty of situations in which someone goes to a school because “guys are in their ear,” then they hate it and have plenty of people to blame.
“I don’t like to do the ‘recruiting’ part,” Thompson says. “At the end of the day, he’s my friend and I don’t want to force him to go to school with me. I want him to go where he’s comfortable.
“I’ll be proud of him wherever he goes, because if he goes to Villanova, or wherever, I’ll want to play him and beat him. If he comes to Texas, it would be awesome. But I want him to do what’s best for him.”
An international figure who has played on Canada’s junior national team with Joseph, Thompson saw his national rankings slip a bit in recent months.
Once considered the top player at his position in his class, depending on the recruiting service, he’s dropped a tad. Rivals.com lists Thompson as the fifth-best power forward, and No. 17 overall prospect, in 2010.
A late-season ankle injury, which forced him to play more with his back to the basket and deeper in the hole in summer tournaments, might have shaded some of those opinions.
“I just want to play hard my senior year and prove people wrong,” Thompson says. “I hear all the critics. I don’t worry about that. I’ll prove people wrong. People almost fell asleep on me, so I have to wake them back up. Nooooo, I’m here. I ain’t going anywhere.
“I just want to win another national championship and leave with a bang.”
Shakespeare provides Thompson with enough tragic endings.