Former Wood River High School basketball star Haylee Thompson has decided to attend Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana on a basketball scholarship after her unexpected release from the Utah State basketball program April 17.
The 6-1 forward/guard, daughter of John Thompson and Kim McKinnon, will redshirt next year for the NCAA Division 1 Crusaders and then have three years of eligibility remaining. Valparaiso is a four-year college with 3,000 undergraduates located in a city of 31,000 about an hour from Chicago.
Haylee, 18, said about her decision to attend Valparaiso, “It was a good fit for me. I think I’ll be happy there and I’m hopeful of getting a lot of playing time. Having the redshirt year actually appealed to me.”
Thompson talked about the changes in her college and basketball life Tuesday, while helping coach the Wood River summer girls’ basketball team on a tournament trip to Filer.
She said she was surprised and “pretty angry” about her Utah State release. “It surprised me because I played in every single game this year, but I got over it and started looking for other schools,” said Thompson.
Thompson put her resume online with the NCSA college athletic recruiting service, trying to find matches between basketball and her academic interests in ecology and environmental science. It immediately paid dividends.
Her mother Kim said, “Her disappointment was forgotten as colleges made their interest in Haylee known. She had no less than six calls from coaches the first day and has had many scholarship offers from D1, D2, D3, and NAIA schools.
“She used all of her ‘official’ visits and made her decision last Thursday (June 6). The decision was not made lightly, and great thought was put into her choice, but she will be attending Valparaiso University.”
Thompson narrowed her choices down to four Division 1 schools—Valparaiso, Cal State Northridge in Los Angeles, Murray State in Murray, Ky. and University of North Florida in Jacksonville—plus two Division 2 schools. They were Cal Poly Pomona and Western Washington Univ. in Bellingham.
During a six-week period she visited all except Murray State. She could have played immediately without sitting out a year by NCAA rules at a Division 2 school. But she found the redshirt year playing on a Valparaiso “scout team” attractive.
She liked Valparaiso’s second-year coach Tracey Dorow, the former Illinois State/Northern Michigan player who led the Crusaders to a 11-20 record last winter after spending 14 years at Division 2 Ferris State in Michigan with a 232-163 mark.
At Utah State, Thompson said she was mainly a post player in the No. 5 position, guarding an opponent’s best post player and only picking up her offensive responsibilities toward the end of the 2012-13 Aggies’ campaign.
“I definitely felt like I could have done more on offense than I was allowed to do (at Utah State). I made a high percentage of my shots. I know I can be a great offensive player but just didn’t get the chance,” she said.
“The main thing is I like making a team better and doing the little things to make a team successful,” Thompson said.
Haylee added, “Valparaiso’s offense is centered around their posts—a lot like we did at Wood River—while Utah State’s offense was guard-oriented. I hope to play more of the No. 4 power forward where I can post up and also play outside.”
At Utah State this past season, Thompson played 31 games and started nine of them. But Aggies coach Jerry Finkbeiner told her in April that she didn’t fit into the team’s future plans.
She averaged 12 minutes per game, 2.4 rebounds and 2.3 points; ranked second on the team in field goal percentage, .484, on 31-of-64 shooting; and ranked fourth in offensive rebounds, 32.
Thompson, raised in Orange County, Ca., moved to Hailey in the eighth grade. New to basketball, she learned quickly and helped coach Mendy Benson’s Wolverines to back-to-back Great Basin Conference girls’ basketball tournament titles in 2011 and 2012.
She averaged 11.9 ppg and 6.9 rebounds leading Wood River to a school-record 21-3 season and second place in the State 4A tournament in 2011. As a senior, she pumped up her scoring to 15.0 ppg and guided Wood River to third place in the state tournament—averaging 21.3 ppg in three state tournament games.