Calvin Thompson thought he was fully recovered last year from ACL surgery that cost him nearly all of the 2010-11 season.
In truth, the Howard guard really just wanted to be at 100 percent as he navigated an up-and-down junior season.
“I don’t want to blame it on the injury,” Thompson said before grinning mischievously.
Well, yeah, it probably had a bit to do with the injury.
And there’s Thompson in a nutshell. However overused the term might be, swagger oozes from the fifth-year senior.
His career resume, though, suggests a snake-bitten stay with the Bison.
A shoulder injury slowed him earlier in his career. Then came the ACL tear. And finally, he overworked himself during the summer of 2011, working out three times a day. He figured he needed to if he wanted to be the player he was before, when he averaged 12 points as a sophomore.
Then his scoring regressed to 9.5 points a game last year. More worrisome, so did his shooting.
“I realized talking to people that rest is real important so I would go hard for a good three or four days and then take two days off and then for three or four days after that,” Thompson said. “My body feels great right now. Actually, it feels wonderful. The best I have ever felt.”
Few are as happy to hear that as third-year coach Kevin Nickelberry, who in late January figured there wasn’t much to lose in starting five freshmen and seeing what happened. The Bison won seven of their last 11 on the way to a 10-21 record, offering the promise of an improved future despite a decade-long run of losing seasons.
Yet when Howard toppled North Carolina A&T to earn the program’s first victory in a conference tournament game since 2002, it was Thompson who was the leading scorer.
“He’s by far our best guard on the team,” Nickelberry said. “I just couldn’t play a 50 percent Calvin last year, and that’s what he was. He didn’t really get healthy until the tournament. The entire year, he was not healthy until the tournament. You saw what he did in the tournament when he was healthy. He pretty much carried us past A&T.”
Nickelberry had little depth to work with in his first year. Last season, it was difficult to mix holdovers, transfers and a promising freshman class.
Now, the priority is to truly fuse the handful of remaining veterans in the program with underclassmen for the first time in Nickelberry’s tenure. Ultimately, Thompson and senior forward Mike Phillips, himself coming off a season partially derailed by a concussion, are on the spot.
For the purposes of the backcourt, it means relieving some of the onus on point guard Simuel Frazier, who played extensively as a freshman last year. For the team, it provides a tested scorer eager to re-establish himself.
“Calvin’s really the core for the guards,” Phillips said. “He can get us tough buckets.”
Assuming, of course, Thompson can stay healthy.