On a mission


POSTED: Monday, January 05, 2009

By his own estimation, Hiram Thompson has changed.




Louisiana Tech (7-7, 1-0 WAC) at Hawaii (8-5, 0-1), 7:05 p.m. today; KFVE, Ch. 5; KKEA, 1420-AM


Outwardly, he appears to be the same Hawaii point guard who showed flashes of talent and court vision as a freshman reserve three years ago.

But Thompson knows an internal shift—borne from spending the last two years in Iowa on a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission—is the reason he got to where he is now.

The 6-foot-2, 175-pound sophomore has started three consecutive games for the Rainbow Warriors after battling through a summer and fall semester rife with injuries and frustration.

“;I think I changed a lot,”; Thompson said. “;I'm still the same Hiram, but I changed a lot for the better. I realized what's really important in life and have my mind focused on those things. Just have my life in order more.”;

Thompson was thus prepared mentally (if not physically) for the basketball setbacks, which included a groin injury and a thrice-pulled hamstring that only recently seems to have healed.

He knew his path in rejoining the Rainbows would not be an easy one. After almost no competitive basketball over those two years in the heartland of America, he could feel his conditioning and all-around skills waning.

To him, getting everything back—he still doesn't rate himself there yet—is yet another test of life he must pass. He's notched 14 assists against 16 turnovers, including eight against nine in his starts as he's looked to push the tempo for the Rainbows.

“;I always think there's trials in front of you,”; Thompson said. “;When you get through a trial, you are always excited and happy, you're going to have a clean way. But always something comes up, another obstacle. You just gotta be prepared, and I know I'll be prepared for the next obstacle and trial I'll face.”;

After arriving in Des Moines, Iowa, a major hurdle was learning Spanish to converse with the Hispanic communities he and his fellow missionaries were trying to reach. The El Dorado Hills (Calif.) native went from town to town and door to door, doing his best to spread the LDS message in a foreign tongue.

“;It was definitely hard,”; he said. “;The one sentence I figure it for is, 'The hardest thing I ever loved.' It was really frustrating and difficult, but at the same time I loved it—it was the best two years of my life.”;

He could only call home twice a year and access e-mail once a week. One thing he could do regularly, though, is work on his shooting.

Since his return, he hasn't been afraid to pull up from long range. After going 0-for-3 from behind the arc his whole freshman season, he hit his first career 3-pointer in a loss to Colorado State in the Rainbow Classic.

He's still working on finding his range overall at 22.2 percent, but has a team-high 13 steals in his limited time (a steadily increasing 14.4 minutes per game average).

During most of the Rainbows' practices in the preseason and halfway through nonconference play, Thompson observed from the sideline during the team's more rigorous drills. He did his best to vocally support fellow point guard Kareem Nitoto and other teammates despite an obvious desire to be on the floor.

Team trainer Lyn Nakagawa went through treatment sessions with Thompson before and after practices for weeks, and never noticed a dip in his even disposition.

“;The coaches would always be concerned about 'How's his spirits, how's his mood today,' “; Nakagawa said. “;But every day he was always positive and always trying to find how he could help someone else out.

“;He always finds the bright side of things. He talks about how that gave him time to learn our system better, get back into basketball. He always finds the positive side of everything. He talks about how he thinks it made him a stronger person. I think the guys admire that, seeing him work hard to get back.”;

UH head coach Bob Nash is thankful to have two true point guards he can now call upon. Nash said it wasn't an easy decision to move Thompson ahead of Nitoto but, for the moment, feels Thompson has earned it.

Both guards bring different things to the floor, and their coach has shown a willingness to play both simultaneously.

“;Kareem gives us great on-ball defense, he's athletic and knows how to play. He knows the system better,”; Nash said. “;Hiram comes in, he's a pure point guard, head's always up the floor and looks to make the right passes, the right decisions. So our transition game gets going a little bit better with him.”;

Whatever transition life brings next for Thompson, he's confident he'll be ready for it.