181025ind URI Thompson

Christion Thompson takes a free throw during the 2015-16 season.

As the University of Rhode Island opens its new era with an exhibition game tonight at the Ryan Center, it will welcome back the longest-tenured link to the old era.

Christion Thompson is set to make his return to the court for his first game action since March 17, 2017. After a medical redshirt season, he’s thrilled to be back, and the Rams are happy to have him. Thompson figures to provide a valuable veteran presence to a team that will need it.

The Louisiana native arrived in Kingston for the 2015-16 season, and his career has spanned all the mileposts of URI’s ride the last few years. His debut came just minutes after the season-ending injury to E.C. Matthews that marked the beginning of a frustrating year. He played a bench role for the 2016-17 team that scuffled but ultimately broke through. And he had a front row seat as the Rams won their first Atlantic 10 regular season title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament again last year. The departure of Dan Hurley and the elevation of David Cox to the head coach’s seat followed.

When classmate Nikola Akele opted to forego his senior season to play professionally in Italy, it left Thompson as the team’s longest-tenured player, and he has embraced the leadership role that comes with that status.

“It’s not really hard, just because I’ve been here so long,” Thompson said. “Everybody knows if they have a question, they come to me. They understand how I am and how I’ve been through it all with this team and this program. It’s been good.”

Thompson made his most significant contributions for the Rams as a freshman. With the injury to Matthews and others opening up playing time, Thompson averaged 18.1 minutes off the bench and scored 3.9 points per game. The 6-foot-4 guard hit double figures in scoring three times, against Rider, Providence and Brown.

The 2016-17 season began with Thompson playing a similar part, but an injury cost him six games in the middle of the season and he never quite returned to form or to the larger role. He played only 12 minutes across URI’s seven March games. He played just garbage-time minutes in the postseason.

The surgery brought Thompson back to full health, but he would have to be patient. With the Rams sporting plenty of depth, there was no need for Thompson to rush back, so the medical redshirt made perfect sense. It would also set the Rams up better for the future, with four guards set to graduate last season.

Thompson focused on making his teammates better in practice as he worked his way back, while also putting in a lot of time on his own game.

“It was a good experience. I was able to learn a lot on the court and off the court,” he said. “It gave me a lot of time to get back to how I wanted to be and work on the things I needed to work on.”

Cox envisions Thompson taking the torch from Stanford Robinson as a versatile performer, a tough defender and a spark.

“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Cox said. “Christion has always been a tough guy, a tough defender, so his physicality is very necessary. He’s going to have to be this year’s version of Stan Robinson, with the physicality, playing multiple positions, knocking down shots. He’ll probably be our third ball-handler, maybe fourth ball-handler. So I’m going to utilize him in all sorts of ways. We just have to make sure he stays healthy. He’s quite the leader as well. He’s always been that.”

Thompson is ready to do whatever the Rams need.

He can’t wait to lend a helping hand.

“It gave me a lot of motivation,” Thompson said of sitting out last season. “I wanted to be out there last year. It made me not take this for granted and cherish it a little more.”

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