Corny Thompson, a big man with the brains of a playmaker

Jan 07, 2013 by Vladimir Stankovic - Print
Vladimir Stankovic at 2012 London Olympic GamesIn all the history of the Euroleague, since 1958 to today, very few title games were decided with a shot or play in the last moments. Among those few who won that way is Cornelius Allen Thompson (Born February 5, 1960 in Middletwon, USA), an American big man who spent most of his career in Italy (Varese) and Spain (Joventut and Leon). His happiest day probably was April 21, 1994 when in the Euroleague title game he posted a three which gave the win to his team, Joventut Badalona, and the title against Olympiacos by 59-57. It was not the last shot of the game, but it was the last basket and therefore, it was decisive.

When Corny Thompson scored the last three of his 17 points that night there were still 18 seconds to go, which is a lot in such a dynamic game as basketball. However, Zarko Paspalj missed two free throws to tie the game and the Reds then missed two more shots in a play that, because of the officials table, lasted longer than it was supposed to, especially to Joventut fans. However, before and after that shot, many things happened for Corny.

With little over two minutes to go, Olympiacos was winning by 57-53. Jordi Villacampa's three gave Joventut some hope. Panagiotis Fassoulas then missed his shot for the Reds and that gave the Spanish team a new chance. Ferran Martinez missed the shot but the offensive rebound for Villacampa gave a new option to the Badalona team. Martinez missed again but Mike Smith pulled the offensive board again. Eventually, the ball reached Corny's hands. He was guarded by Roy Tarpley, a 211-centimeter big man who was late. Corny was alone behind the arc and he didn't miss. With 18 seconds to go,Penya was ahead 59-57. With 4.8 seconds to go, Smith fouled on Paspalj. The Montenegrian player missed the first attempt and then he did the same with the second, on purpose, and with some help from the table that cannot be understood, the Greek team had time for two more shots that never went in. It was the first European title for a Catalan team.

Explosion in Varese

Corny Thompson always stood out as a player, since his start as a kid until his retirement at 36 years old. At 14 he was 195-centimeters and had great potential for rebounds, something that would become a trademark in his career. He led Middletwon High School to three state championships. Several universities were interested in him, even the famous North Carolina whose coach, aslo famous Dean Smith, travelled all the way to Middleton to see the kid that made the All American high school team in 1978.

Corny chose the Connecticut Huskies, especially because he wanted to be close to home. Until Thompson arrived, the UConn team was a mediocre one, but with him and Tony McCoy at point, as explained by the extraordinary book "Foreigners in the ACB", the team became very strong. Corny finished the year as the best player that year in his conference while UConn made the NCAA Final Four for the first time. Four years later, Corny would leave college with several records under his arm. He is still the player with the most free throws attempted (496), the fifth top scorer (1,810 points) and the fourth best rebounder.

His next logical step was the NBA, but as in many other cases, he landed on the wrong team at the wrong time. He was signed by Dallas in the third round of the draft of 1980, but the team already had Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman, Pat Cummings or Brad Davis. He didn't earn the trust of coach Dick Motta and after hardly 20 games with an average of 3 points, he had to look for options outside Dalla.s He played one year in the CBA with the Detroit Spirits where his 15 points and 10 rebounds opened the Europe doors for him.

The best decision for Corny Thompson was signing for Varese, a team with a name, tradition and great players in the past. Between 1984 and 1990 Corny spent six happy years in Varese. He played 211 games, scored 4,704 points (22.3) and was at 58% in 2-pointers and 42% in 3-pointers, plus 9.7 boards and 1.2 assists. His best scoring average was 24.7 in 1986-87. His records were 39 points against Tracer Milano and 22 rebounds against Desio, both in 1987.

However, something was missing. Titles. Varese was not as strong as it used to be. It reached the finals, but the titles slipped away. In the first European final, Korac Cup against Milano on March 21, 1985 in Brussels, Varese lost by 78-91 with only 8 points by Corny. Russ Schoene was unstoppable for Milano with 33 points. In the Italian League, Varese lost the final series in 1989-90 against Scavolini, coached by a young Sergio Scariolo. Despite his 27 points and 13 rebounds in the third game and 26 plus 15 in the fourth, Thompson could not help Varese claim the title and that made him want to switch teams in order to win the titles.

Badalona, the perfect destination

Corny's decision to leave Varese coincided in time with the build of a great team at Joventut. Coached by Real Madrid legend Lolo Sainz, that team had a strong core of Spanish players: Jordi Villacampa, Rafa Jofresa, Tomas Jofersa, Ferran Martinez... The club had also signed an excellent American, Harold Pressley, an NCAA champ with Vilanova and with good numbers in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings as he played 299 games in 4 seasons averaging 12.3 points and 6.1 rebounds. There was another foreigner missing in the team and Joventut set its eyes on Thompson, marking the birth of one of the best duos of American players ever in the Spanish League.