When the Statesmen basketball team took on the University of Saint Joseph Blue Jays in the NCAA tournament first round game today, Hobart Head Coach Stefan Thompson ’13 went head to head with one of his idols, Basketball Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun, and defeated him.
Almost 16 years ago to the day, Thompson was courtside at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, working as a ball boy during a Big East matchup between Calhoun’s University of Connecticut team and the Syracuse Orange. “I saw the way Coach Calhoun led his NBA caliber players,” Thompson recalls. “I saw the way he communicated with his team and the intensity his players showed on the court. It helped me be a better basketball player and at the same time I put some things in the piggy bank to use later in coaching.”
At 29, Thompson is one of the youngest head coaches in the country, while Calhoun, in his more than 40-year career, led UConn to three national championships, mentored 28 players who went on to the NBA and amassed a career record of 915-394, one of the best in NCAA history. The legendary coach came out of retirement in 2018 to steer the brand new Blue Jays men’s basketball program. This year, the team has posted a 26-2 record, won their conference title to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and was riding a 25-game win streak.
Thompson, who was the first Hobart player to earn All-America honors from the National Association of Basketball Coaches, graduated from Hobart with a degree in sociology and anthropology, and went on to serve as an assistant coach for five years at Wilkes University, where he also earned his M.A. He returned to Hobart as an assistant coach before being named his alma mater’s 20th head coach in 2019. In his first year as head coach, Thompson has led the Statesmen to a 21-5 record and a fifth NCAA tournament appearance, the team’s first since 2014.
“I felt the excitement from this group right away,” he says. “The seniors bought in immediately. They knew coming in they had one year left to play and they wanted to help me keep building the program. I had their full commitment and that rubbed off on the first-years right away and in turn helped the sophomores and the juniors get on board.”
The team finished the 2019-20 regular season tied for second place in the Liberty League standings with a 15-3 mark. Despite a loss to Ithaca in the conference tournament semifinals, the Statesmen earned an NCAA invitation thanks to one of the best records in program history. The .808 winning percentage is 27th in the nation and tied for the best in Hobart’s modern history.
“As a team we have worked hard on our communication and laying out our expectations,” says Thompson. “I give so much credit to Coach Smiley and Coach Pysnack. Both have helped me so much. They bring a great deal of experience. They help me to see the whole picture and we would not had the success we have had this season without their expertise.”
As for the game on Friday, Thompson says, “It was an honor to go up against a Hall of Famer like Coach Calhoun. He has always had well-prepared teams that are known for their scrappiness and being defensively strong, tough teams, but I also had a job to do. I was focused on how I could get my team prepared, and I was trying to do all that I could do to get Hobart to be walking off the court victorious.”
The game was held in Springfield, Mass., on Springfield College’s James Naismith Court, in Blake Arena. The Statesmen will play again at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 7.
For more information and live coverage, visit hwsathletics.com.