There were, surely, personal and career reasons he did not.
But the Georgia junior forward said this week there was another reason.
“I thought it was the best thing for me to come back to school so I could be part of something great,” Thompkins said.
Something great may be relative for Georgia men’s basketball. It has finished fifth or sixth in the SEC East every season since 2004. It has made the NCAA tournament once since 2002, and that was the 2008 miracle run at the SEC tournament.
But when the Bulldogs begin practice today, it will certainly be for one their most anticipated seasons in recent memory. And there is good reason for the expectations.
Thompkins, an All-SEC first-team pick last year, is back. So is junior guard Travis Leslie, who was the team’s second-leading scorer and one of the league’s most athletic players.
The Bulldogs have also added a solid transfer (guard Gerald Robinson) and heralded freshman (forward Marcus Thornton.)
JR Travis Leslie has high expectations in 2010-11.
The team showed plenty of promise last year, Mark Fox’s first as coach. They beat three top 25 teams, including then-No. 8 Tennessee, and came close to knocking off then-No. 2 Kentucky. In fact, much of the optimism comes from how close Georgia came to reversing its record.
The feelings from Fox’s first year were so positive, and the carryover so strong to this year’s expectations, that you almost forget that the Bulldogs went 14-17 overall and 5-11 in the SEC.
“He keeps our confidence up, but he also reminds us that we haven’t made the tournament,” Thompkins said. He tells us every day that we have a chance to be a great team, but it’s only a chance and if we don’t capitalize then nothing’s gonna happen.”
It helps to remind fans that the Bulldogs still play in the ultra-competitive SEC East, where Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida and Vanderbilt are regular entrants in the NCAAs.
“We’ve just been trying to join the party,” Fox said.
Still, Fox made clear that the expectations have been ramped up. He arranged the nonconference schedule to help the postseason resume.
The expansion of the NCAA tournament to 68 teams could also help the Bulldogs. They also have the potential to get in the field comfortably, according to some national pundits whom have them in their preseason top 25.
“We definitely have a chance to do something special,” Thompkins said. “That was very important to me, and I want to be someone who was known as someone who helped a program do something great. I didn’t want to just leave.”