Freshman faces the pressure
Brewer grad Thompson starting at West Alabama
Charles Prince, Hartselle Enquirer
Pressure comes in many different forms, appears in many different places and has many different causes. Pressure means different things to different people. However, no athlete goes through their sporting life without facing it.
For Brewer grad and West Alabama University freshman Jessica Thompson, the pressure she faces is from the defenders on the college basketball court.
"My biggest adjustment to the college game is getting my shot off against pressure defense," Thompson said. "In high school there was room to get my shot off, but in college they play in your face defense. It seems there's always one or two players running at you when you shoot. I haven't handled the pressure very well so far."
Yet, with her difficulties adjusting to the defensive pressure, Thompson has started half of West Alabama's 22 games-an unusual occurrence according to West Alabama head coach Amanda Marks.
"I usually start junior college transfers," Marks said. "Jessica is one of only a few freshmen I have ever put in the starting lineup."
Thompson's first start came on Dec. 6, 2004 during a road contest at Henderson State College in Arkansas. Marks informed Thompson she would start just five minutes prior to tip-off.
"Coach Marks told me I had earned a starting spot by stepping up in practice," Thompson said. "It really put pressure on me. I wasn't sure how I would do. I didn't know if I was up to the challenge."
Thompson did a good enough job overcoming the pressure to score nine points, including sinking two three-pointers, grab four rebounds and come up with a steal.
For the season, Thompson is averaging seven points, two rebounds and one assist in 20-and-a-half minutes of playing time per game. One statistic Thompson would like to lower is her two-turnovers per game which are fifth highest on the team.
Thompson, who was known for her long-range shooting at Brewer while winning two Morgan County Tournament MVP awards, can still fill it up from the outside. She is second on West Alabama with 30 three-pointers made, while shooting 35 percent from behind the three-point arc.
West Alabama's opponents have been adjusting to her outside shooting by playing tighter defense and daring her to put the ball on the floor.
"I need to work on taking the ball to the hole this off-season," Thompson said. "My coach wants me to fake my three-pointer and take it to the basket. If I can do that, it will back off the defenders and make my outside shot more effective."
According to her head coach, Thompson's three-point shooting wasn't the determining factor in earning her a spot in the starting lineup. It was her work on the other end of the floor that caught the coach's attention.
"She's doing very well for a freshman adjusting to playing defense at this level," Marks said.
"Her defense is good. She's ahead of a lot of freshmen in that area because she came from a program that plays good defense. (Coach Ricky) Allen does a great job teaching his players defense."
Thompson credits her high school coach with teaching her the importance of playing both ends of the floor.
"Coach Allen used to always say, 'Even if you're having a bad offense game, keep playing defense and it will help your team,'" Thompson said. "He once told me, even if I didn't score one point, as long as I played defense I was helping our team."
Despite Thompson's insistence that she has been frustrated on the court at times this season, her coach feels she has a bright future in the game.
"If she improves her shooting off the dribble and can sharpen her jumper off of screens and off of catch-and-shoots, she can be a great college player," Marks said. "There's no doubt in my mind about that."
Thompson gave everyone a glimpse of future greatness when she overcome the pressure and came through for her team in a clutch situation during a Dec. 18 home game.
The Lady Tigers trailed Delta State by one-point with just less than a minute to play when Thompson came off a screen in the corner and fired up a three-pointer.
The shot hit nothing but net to give West Alabama the lead for good in a 69-65 victory.
"I still remember the way our home crowd exploded when I hit that basket," Thompson said.
"One of my teammates said I sealed the victory. I want to make more of those game winning shots before I'm done with college."