It’s one of the greatest mysteries of the Hawaii men’s basketball team. Just how old is senior point guard Hiram Thompson?
"Thirty-three? We don’t talk about that," UH coach Gib Arnold guessed coyly. "I thought I played against him in AAU ball with Tony Sellitto. I’m not sure."
The "birthers" chasing around for President Barack Obama’s records might have just found a new target. But at last, the veteran Thompson is cornered before a Rainbow Warriors practice this week. With a smile, he gives a full disclosure: 23.
"Everybody thinks I’m old, but Bill (Amis)’s going to be 23. Doug (Kurtz) is 23," Thompson said. "I think just because I’ve been here so long and everyone’s known me from when I was a freshman (2005-06) until now, it seems like a very long time."
WAC MEN’S BASKETBALl
» Who: Louisiana Tech (12-14, 2-10) at Hawaii (15-10, 5-7)
» When: Today, 7:30 p.m. (after Wahine basketball)
» Where: Stan Sheriff Center
» TV: KFVE, Ch. 5
» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
Sage words from a wizened man. Thompson, whose career spans three head coaches, is in the twilight of his UH career. Believe it — he is one of three UH seniors taking the floor for the season’s penultimate home game at the Stan Sheriff Center tonight against Louisiana Tech. Senior night is Saturday against New Mexico State.
Whether Thompson will appear in either game is doubtful, as the latest in a well-documented string of injuries — ligament damage around his left elbow — seems to have shelved him for now. He still hopes to return by season’s end.
It may have been Thompson’s fate to be forever associated with those ailments, be it to hamstring, back or forehead, but that’s not what defines the tri-captain, who averaged 8.7 points and 2.9 assists in 23 games this season.
"I think anything you do, there’s a journey to it," Thompson said. "It’s been a great one filled with a lot of ups, a lot of downs. It’s been great, though. … I think I’ve really matured from my time here, in the sense of as a basketball player but also as a person. When I was younger, basketball was my life; that’s all I knew. But now I’ve figured out what’s the most important in life."
He figures a career in basketball, as was his childhood dream, is pretty much out of the question. Instead, a double major in finance and international business — which he should complete in about a year — coupled with his earnestness should serve him well.
Marking his maturation, Thompson got married over the summer to the former Bridgette Strickland, who is now a Hawaii assistant tennis coach.
But Hiram is still, well, Hiram.
"With Hiram, I feel like what you see is what you get," Bridgette said. "I guess the surprising thing is there’s never been a surprise with him. It’s a really good thing."
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who rails against Thompson’s high character and strong family background. Between 2006 and 2008, he went on an LDS mission to Iowa. Lately, he’s taken to teaching a class on missions once a week to young men at a nearby church.
His outwardly spiritual nature belies his competitiveness. When Arnold was hired last March, Thompson made it his mission to go out with a winning record and establish a new tradition for future Rainbow Warriors. Should the Rainbows (15-10) beat the Bulldogs tonight, UH is assured of it.
"That was his whole thing," said assistant Brandyn Akana, who along with Arnold has marveled at Thompson’s resolve. "I think his whole attitude and his whole personality, he’s great for the guys, especially the young guys coming in."
Thompson is about as low-drama a player as exists in college hoops, except for the times when he goes down hard after taking another charge or body check en route to the basket. If the Stan Sheriff hardwood is ever named, "Thompson Court" should be nominated; he’s spent as much time with his backside on it as anyone, and has the bruises to prove it.
"We joke around with him a little bit, but I know he’s one of the toughest guys I know," Amis said. "The stuff he’s played through, it’s tough to do day in and day out."
Even more than ribbing about his age, Thompson is used to fielding questions about his health.
"My career has been filled with a little more trial and injuries than a lot of people experience," Thompson acknowledged. "It’s kind of frustrating, but I just love competing, so I want to be out there and compete. … I’m going to do everything I can to get back out there for one last go-around."
Don’t count Thompson out. He doesn’t have full range of motion in his left arm yet, but he is rehabbing it daily.
"I think if anyone can do it, it’s gonna be him," Amis said.