A friendship established over a decade ago in the Texas Tech University athletic program has produced an ongoing basketball camp for high school girls in Brownwood.
Brownwood Lady Lions head basketball coach Nikki Heath, a member of Texas Tech’s 1993 national championship squad, enlisted the help of fellow ex-Lady Raider and WNBA veteran Alicia Thompson to put together a camp for teenage girls in the area.
Thompson, who is second in both scoring and rebounding all-time at Texas Tech, was a 1998 first-round draftee of the New York Liberty. She was also a member of the Indiana Fever and Seattle Storm, where she played for the 2004 WNBA world champions.
“We have camps for the younger kids, and we were trying to get one for the high school kids,” Heath said. “We were trying to do a team camp, but that didn’t pan out, so I called Alicia and talked to her about coming here and working a camp for the high school kids. She was all for it.”
Heath and Thompson’s friendship developed during the Brownwood coach’s senior season in Lubbock. The relationship has blossomed over the years, which resulted in Heath’s request to have Thompson put on a camp in Brownwood. The camp began at Warren Gym on the high school campus Thursday and will conclude with a 9 a.m. to noon session Monday.
“Nikki and I played together at Texas Tech and she was actually my senior (my freshman year),” Thompson said. “We we just hit it off. We became good friends and stayed in touch, we’re actually like sisters. She called me and asked if I would come and hold a camp for her and that’s why I’m here.”
In her 143 career games in the WNBA, Thompson — who has played both as a post and a forward — averaged 5.3 points and 2.5 rebounds in an average of 14.9 minutes per contest. Thompson’s best season as a pro statistically was in 2000 when she averaged 10 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, while shooting 51 percent from the floor and 45 percent from beyond the three-point arc.
“I’ve been playing basketball for a long time and even being a professional athlete, there are things that we can do to add to our game and get better,” Thompson said. “They know how to dribble, they know how to pass, they know how to shoot, but you can always develop your game and get better. We’re working on things that maybe some of them already know, but even if you know things you can still develop them to make your weaknesses strong and your strengths stronger.”
Heath believes the knowledge Thompson imparts during the camp will not only help the Lady Lions program, but those players from other schools who also elected to attend.
“This is a huge opportunity for them to learn from a player that’s played at the highest level possible,” Heath said. “She can teach them some things and add some things to their skill level that will make us, as a program, better. Anytime you can get an opportunity to learn from a WNBA player and a player as well-versed in basketball as she is, it will make you as a whole better. That’s what we’re looking for to get to the next level.”
The camp isn’t Thompson first dealings with the Brownwood program as Heath stated she visited with the juniors and seniors this past year and gave a talk centered around “being the best person you could be.”
Heath also said plans are in the works for the camp to become a yearly event.
“This is something we’re going to try and do every year and make an annual thing,” Heath said. “We’ll do it every year and we’re going to try and go to team camp every summer. But we’re also going to do this high school camp and it’s not just for Brownwood girls. Anybody can come in the surrounding area.”
Thompson, who is no stranger to conducting camps, welcomes the opportunity to teach the skills she has learned to those wanting to follow in her footsteps.
“Growing up my mom was my role model, and she was a great role model, but women didn’t have professional athletes to come in and show them or teach them things,” Thompson said. “I jump on every opportunity to do that.
“I’ve been running camps for quite some time now. When we played at Texas Tech we worked a basketball camp there. After I graduated and went off to play professionally in the WNBA I worked in some of their camps and held camps of my own. It’s something that I try to do during my off time. I also give private lessons and work any camps that I can when I have the time.”
Thompson added she has been impressed with the work ethic and attitude the camp participants have displayed. She also noticed an immediate improvement in several campers’ games.
“I’m a big person on attitude, you may be the best player out there, but if you have a bad attitude you really don’t work for me,” Thompson said. “I’ve seen a lot of great attitudes and people who have improved from the first day and can pick things up quickly. They work hard and I’m very proud of that and pleased with their effort. I’m teaching them a lot of new things, things I have learned throughout my career. I hope for the rest of the camp they can continue to get better.”