GENEVA, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) – Hobart was on the court at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia on Thursday, March 12th, preparing for a Friday evening NCAA Division III quarterfinal game in the NCAA Tournament. But then former CBA alum Stefan Thompson and his coaching staff received a call that altered the rest of the season.
“It was definitely a shock. We got news when we were down at Christopher Newport midway through our practice our assistant coach Sean Smiley got a phone call basically saying the season was over. So we finished our little segment, I huddled the guys up and broke the news to them which is very difficult obviously,” said Thompson, Hobart men’s basketball head coach.
The NCAA had cancelled all basketball tournaments due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the Statesmen made the most of their situation.
“We had about 45 minutes on the clock and I told them, ‘hey we have about 45 minutes to play you guys want to run fives’ and they were like ‘let’s do it coach’. So we got up and down and they had a lot of fun. I thought we finished the season with a lot of smiles and a lot of joy, I think it’s one of the most fun we had all year,” said Thompson.
This season was filled with a lot of fun moments. This Statesmen team made it farther in the NCAA tournament than any team before it making it to the Sweet 16 for first time in its history.
Hobart got past former UConn head coach Jim Calhoun and No. 14 Saint Joseph 78-74 to open the NCAA tournament on Friday, March 6th. The next day, the Statesmen edged out No. 17 Springfield on a layup by Dan Masino with one seconds remaining 62-61.
“To be in Springfield’s gym where they probably had 80 percent of the fans there and to look behind our bench and to see all Hobart fans relatives, families, cousins, alums, that was really, really cool,” said Thompson.
“Our guys kinda huddled up behind the bench and were hugging people it felt like the longest celebration we ever been a part of. I know the Springfield people were trying to get us off the court but we couldn’t stop giving hugs to our fans.”
And that turned out to be the final game of the season for not only Hobart, but every team in Division III.
“I know some of our guys are saying they’re 1/16th of the national champions. I think it was just a unique experience. All of us are gonna remember this obviously it’s impacting the whole country, and the whole world. But for our first year here at Hobart I think it’s gonna be something that brings us all together,” said Thompson.
In total Hobart won 23 games this season, tying a program record for wins in a season. The Statesmen finished ranked in the D3hoops.com national poll at the end of the season for the first time in its history, coming in at 20th in the nation. To add to the team success, Stefan Thompson was named the D3Hoops.com East Region Coach of the Year. Senior guard Tucker Lescoe was voted second team All-East and sophomore forward Jackson Meshanic was elected to the third team.
All of the success this year is no surprise to Thompson’s own former coach, CBA’s Buddy Wleklinski.
“You could always tell. By his senior year he was telling us. We’d reach out to him what he thought would work, what kind of plays would work and we’d talk about what we wanted to run and things that we could do on the court. So you could tell. Very serious, took the game seriously. Always worked really hard and just a great basketball IQ. He’s a natural coach,’’ said Wleklinski.
“You know you always knew Stef was gonna get a job and do a great job for it to happen at this young age its pretty amazing,” added Wleklinski. “we’re just all so proud of him over here.”
Throughout the year, Thompson, 29, has spoken to his old coaches.
“I spoke to him(Coach Wleklinski), Coach Leone. They both text me I think they were more excited about my Hobart team then they were about their own team a little bit.,” laughed Thompson. “But its vice versa, I was excited about CBA(winning the Class A sectional title this season) as well but its complete mentor ship between them and I.”
Even though this season will ultimately feel a bit unfinished, Thompson knows that he and his players shared something special that will stick with them for years to come.
“These guys that are in the locker room have a special place in my heart and I know that’s mutual,” said Thompson. “I think towards the end of the year we started breaking down our huddles with ‘1-2-3 I love you’ I don’t know if many teams in the country do that but that’s how we genuinely felt about each other.”
Stefan says he’s learned the value of sleep in his first year as a head coach, so he will be catching up on that during this time off while all sports activities are postponed or cancelled.
But on top, of watching old Hobart games from the season, high school film, or old NBA games on YouTube, he is always trying to make sure he and his team can get better next year.
“The offseason, a lot of people see it as relaxation time. But we want to be a 12 month program,” said Thompson.