- Associated Press - Sunday, February 12, 2017

ASHLAND, Ky. (AP) - Calling Clarence Thompson a survivor isn’t even half the story.

He’s more Survivor Supreme.

Twelve years ago last October, Thompson the former Fairview High and Oral Roberts basketball great suffered debilitating injuries when he was struck by a truck while trying to help a stranded motorist on Exit 13 of the New Jersey Turnpike. He was in a coma for 16 days, 11 surgeries and 17 blood transfusions.

He was relegated to a wheelchair and was lucky to be alive, doctors said. It was unlikely that he’d ever walk again they told him.

He had a broken neck, back, ribs, his tibia was shattered and so was his spirit.

Until …

“I was shooting basketball (paper wads) into a garbage pail in the rehab center, waiting for the Asbury Park Press who was going to do a picture and article on me,” he said. “I saw out of the corner of my eye some people doing therapy in the same rehab center. They could barely put their hands together but they were trying to clap for me. They were trying. I knew those people couldn’t get any better and I knew I could.”

Thompson, who was nicknamed “The Mad Bomber” while setting a school record for 3-point field goals made in a season at Oral Roberts University, wasn’t going to let his circumstances derail him.

“I knew I’m coming out of this wheelchair,” he said.

Another defining moment for Thompson was when his daughter, Carissa, saw him so devastated from the injuries.

“I’ll never forget the first time she saw me, she was only 7 years old” he said. “It was obviously a shock to her. She takes off a big bracelet on her arm and I raised my hand - I could only move my left hand at the time - and said ‘Daddy, I bought this with my own money.’ She was in an allowance program. It had courage, hope, faith and strength written on it. I kept that bracelet on until it basically fell off.”

A friend, Bobby Hart, kept calling him about helping coach a girls basketball team. The team was 0-12 the previous year and 0-1 when Thompson took over. They finished .500.

“When I rode myself upon the court in my wheelchair those girls were as shocked as anybody,” he said. “I knew they’d get better because they hard the heart to get better with me.”

Thompson knew what inspired him was when people told him he wasn’t good enough or he wasn’t going to walk again.

“A lot of people had doubts about me around here,” he said. “It inspired me even more.”

Those same girls ended up winning three state high school championships in New Jersey. They also made it to the final eight nationally on the AAU circuit.

“I have girls all over the place playing college basketball,” he said. “I love basketball but this was about the game of life. You take the lessons you learn on the court and use them.”

By the way, Thompson is walking again, without assistance of a walker or cane.

Thompson, a prolific scorer at Fairview High from 1982-86 who once scored 41 points and had 31 rebounds in a Feb. 22, 1985 game against Boyd County and a career-high 43 points in a Jan. 23, 1986 loss to Lawrence County, quit feeling sorry for himself and worked to become even better.

Thompson could make the long shot but he wasn’t going to be one. He was going to make it all the way back.

“I thought ‘Why can’t I continue with basketball in a different way?’ I wanted to give the gift of basketball to other kids and that’s basically what I did.”

Thompson scored 1,133 points in two years at ORU in 1989-90, averaging over 16 points and six rebounds per game. He came there after two years in junior college.

He eventually played or coached for 15 years in the Continental, U.S. and Eastern Basketball Leagues, earning three EBA titles with the Morris Revolution as a player and coach.

He coached and played in the famous Jersey Shore league that is simply a step away from the NBA. Thompson holds the record for 3-point shooting in the league.

“I’m very well known in my league,” he said. “The coach had quit the night before and they had no players.”

They went 0-5 but by the sixth game he had assembled players from Argentina and Germany through connections with agents.

“We reeled off the next eight games and won the championship,” he said. “We won three championships and this past year made it to the finals.”

When that happened, Thompson’s story of survival and recovery started making a comeback too.

“The story got rejuvenated again,” he said.

Producers told him now was the time to strike.

Meanwhile, he’s still inspiring. A documentary of his comeback story is being produced and a music video written by country singer Nicole Nichols is being produced this week by the team that puts together Taylor Swift’s videos.

Nichols’ song, “Stronger than Before,” details Thompson’s life but fits that of anyone who is fighting back from illness, depression, divorce or anything else.

Nichols’ aunt had married Thompson’s uncle, which is how they met. He asked her to write the song and sing it even though she had given up music a dozen years ago.

“He said ‘I would really like for you to do it,’” Nichols said. “I had three kids and had stopped singing altogether. I told him he was crazy.”

But Thompson was persistent and Nichols called a friend who owned a recording studio outside Nashville and they went to work.

“We wanted a song that would lift people up,” she said.

She and the producer wrote the song in two hours although she says “the producer will tell you I wrote the song.”

A theme of faith and hope can be heard throughout, which is what Thompson asked.

Nichols told Thompson she would write the song and sing it but do nothing else.

However, with some nudging from her new manager, Thompson himself, she currently is eight songs into a 13-song CD.

“He doesn’t have a clue of how much an inspiration he is to me,” she said.

A video team is set to shoot footage this weekend. Mason McIntyre will be playing a younger version of Thompson for the video during introductions.

Nichols is bringing her kids up from Florida so they can be in the video, too.

Thompson said the video will be on CMT hopefully by late spring.

The documentary is being produced by a company called Sunburst and they have also farmed out a Hollywood scriptwriter for a potential movie, Thompson said.

“It looks as if the title could be ‘Stronger than Before,’” he said.

The video and documentary - and maybe a movie - has enormous potential.

“He’s going to be the basketball version of ‘Rudy,’” Nichols said.

___

Information from: The Independent, https://www.dailyindependent.com

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