Friday, July 22, 2011

Haylee decides Utah State is a good fit

Wood River’s Thompson verbally commits to Aggies basketball

Express Staff Writer

Haylee Thompson is first and foremost a team player, so she was delighted to have her Wood River High School girls’ basketball teammates join her Tuesday afternoon at Kaitana Martinez’s house south of Bellevue to celebrate Haylee’s verbal commitment to Utah State. From left are Jade Glenn, Haylee’s older sister Hunter Thompson (bound for Boise State in the fall), Cookie Benson, Emmalie Dion, Haylee Thompson wearing her Aggies jersey, Kaitana Martinez, Haillie Taylor and Allie Hesteness holding coach Mendy Benson’s daughter Tobie Joy Stilling. Photo by David N. Seelig

For a girl who has been playing basketball for essentially three years, Haylee Thompson has made a ton of progress.

So much so that Thompson, who won't be 17 until Thanksgiving Day 2011, has earned a full-ride basketball scholarship to an NCAA Division 1 school. She is believed to be the first Wood River basketball player to earn such an honor, and one of the few in this entire region.

Thompson, a 6-1 forward who helped lead Wood River's girls' varsity team to its best-ever season in 2010-11, verbally committed Monday, July 18 to the Utah State University Aggies in Logan, Utah.

After completing her senior year for coach Mendy Benson at Wood River High School in 2011-12, the daughter of Kim McKinnon of Hailey and John Thompson of Irvine, Ca. plans to attend Utah State in 2012-13 and play for Aggies women's coach Raegan Scott Pebley.

Thompson said, "Everything seemed to fit with the school and the basketball program. It was my top choice."

She expects to officially sign with Utah State in November. It was a dream come true for a team player who said she had realistically thought about playing for an NCAA Division 2 school before the Utah State Division 1 offer came through.

Thompson flourished on the basketball court this past season under coach Benson. The team's second-leading scorer, Thompson averaged 11.9 ppg on 285 points, plus 6.9 rebounds a game. The previous season, as a sophomore, she averaged 5.0 ppg, the fifth-leading scorer.

Finally learning the game and gaining enormous confidence this past winter, she scored in double figures in 19 of the 24 Wood River games as the Wolverines went 21-3 and placed second in the State 4A tournament. It was the best finish in 36 years of Wood River High girls' basketball.

Thompson's career-high 23 points in Wood River's 46-36 state semi-final victory over Bishop Kelly put the Wolverines into the state championship game. She considers it her best game, so far. "Everything seemed to come together. I don't even know what happened that game," she said with a laugh.

After playing sparingly for the Idaho Flash club basketball team in the spring and summer of 2010, Thompson bypassed playing softball for Wood River this spring and committed to a full schedule of Idaho Flash basketball tournaments under coach Stu Sells. She played in Arizona, Washington and Oregon. She leaves today, Friday for the final Flash tournament at Nashville, Tenn.

The connections that coach Sells had with the Utah State program, and Thompson's efforts this year with the Flash, led the Aggies to snap her up.

Raised in Orange County, Calif. playing youth soccer for 13 years, Thompson has never traveled east of Minnesota. She moved to Hailey in the eighth grade. Her friends hounded her to try basketball and she made the high school junior varsity basketball team as a freshman.

She said she made a big jump with the Flash this year, went "outside the box," tried new things, worked on her outside shot and learned more about reading what happens on the court during the game. Thompson said her objective is to play at a consistently high level—and to help Wood River to a state championship in 2012.

Her Aggies coach, reigning Western Athletic Conference "Coach of the Year" Pebley, has followed a similar career path and is a similar age, 35, as Wood River coach Benson, who has motivated Thompson to improve during the past two seasons.

On June 10, Pebley signed a five-year contract extension with Utah State, through the 2015-16 season.

A native of Orem, Utah and two-time Utah "Player of the Year" and state champion for Mountain View High School, Pebley was a four-year letter winner for the University of Colorado. She also played for the WNBA Utah Starzz. This past season, Pebley led the Aggies to a school-record 18-15 season and the school's first post-season trip in 20 years.

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