- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2011

For Howard’s basketball team, this year is all about rejuvenation.

Coming off a trying season in which his five starters averaged more than 30 minutes, coach Kevin Nickelberry has brought in a talented freshman class that will give his squad much-needed depth.

Theodore Boyomo — the promising 6-foot-9 Cameroonian freshman who tore his knee in a pickup game before last season — is poised to make significant contributions in the paint. Perhaps most critical of all, though, will be the re-emergence of junior guard Calvin Thompson.

After being named second-team all-MEAC in the preseason, Thompson tore his ACL in the team’s second game. The loss of Thompson, who averaged 12 points and 30.5 minutes during the 2009-10 season, was a major blow to an already thin Bison lineup, which ended last season ranked 331st or worse among 346 Division I teams in multiple offensive categories, including scoring (58.4 points per game), assists (9.3) and field goal percentage (.376).

Now, Thompson says he feels better than he did before the injury, a welcome sign for a program desperate to avoid its ninth consecutive 20-plus-loss season. Already considered one of the team’s biggest leaders before the injury, Thompson asserted that his months on the sideline further strengthened his leadership skills while allowing him to view his team’s strengths and weaknesses from a different perspective.

“We need to get tougher, stronger and faster,” Thompson said, echoing the team theme emblazoned on the back of their practice shirts. “Because last year, I noticed a lot we weren’t as strong as the bigger schools we played. We were getting boxed out easily, we weren’t getting as many rebounds. Even playing defense with our guards, it was like other guards were just getting us on their hip and driving us all the way to the rim.”

This year, Thompson will fill the point guard position, which was operated last season by Kyle Riley, the team’s lone loss to graduation. Though Riley contributed a respectable 9.8 points per game, Thompson’s scoring ability likely will make the position an even greater source of offense.

Still, Thompson’s greatest contributions might come from his intangibles.

“I feel like toughness is the biggest thing I can add to the mix,” Thompson said. “I’m a confident person, so while I”m on the court I’m talking and while I’m talking everybody else is going to talk. So just me pushing my teammates to get to the next level because I know I’m out there working hard, so I’m pushing them to work hard.”

Watching his team finish last in the MEAC in 2010-11 wasn’t easy, particularly considering the winning Thompson was accustomed to before attending Howard. He competed for high school state championships in Harvey, La., playing alongside Greg Monroe, who was drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the seventh overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft.

“I remind him to remember the winning times,” Nickelberry said. “Because for three years, all these guys remember is losing. I don’t want them to hold onto this feeling of despair of losing. Because Howard basketball is on the rise, and they have an ownership in how fast we flush out that bad taste.”