The games have been tough, the work has been hard, and nothing has come easy – and that’s exactly what he was expecting.
“Everything that everyone’s told me has been true,” Thompkins said. “It’s been physical, it’s a lot of hard defense, it’s confusing actually. Some teams play you one way, some teams play you a different way, so it’s just an adjustment that’s going to have to be made.”
Those adjustments are happening nearly every day for the 6-foot-8 forward from Lithonia.
While Thompkins may have known what to expect when he arrived at Georgia, he has been playing catch-up almost from the outset. A bevy of offseason injuries cost him all of preseason camp, the first four games of the regular season and put him behind the curve physically by the time he was ready for action.
By the time he finally made it onto the court for his Georgia debut on Nov. 24 against Santa Clara, he was noticeably out of shape.
“Missing the first part of the year hurt him a little bit, and he jumped into action when we started playing better teams like Illinois and Virginia Tech,” point guard Zac Swansey said. “Most of the younger freshmen have more games under their belt than he does, so he’s still got some work to do, but I think he’s made good progress so far.”
In truth, Thompkins progress came rapidly.
His coach has already dubbed him one of the country’s best freshmen, and Thompkins scored in double digits in each of his first three games, including a season-high 23 points against Mississippi Valley State.
But as the competition grew tougher, Thompkins meteoric rise slowed. He tallied just 13 points in a combined 50 minutes of playing time against Illinois and Virginia Tech, getting his first taste of what high-level college competition means.
“It’s definitely a more fast-paced game, a more physical game,” Thompkins said. “I’m used to being a more dominant player as far as strength on the court, but a lot of guys are stronger, guys are faster.”
Since Georgia began SEC play, things haven’t gotten much easier for Thompkins.
He racked up 14 points and nine rebounds in a strong performance against Tennessee, but was nearly shut out down the stretch as the Volunteers made a furious comeback to beat Georgia in Athens.
Four days later, Thompkins struggled mightily in a road game at Vanderbilt. He hit just 3-of-15 field goals and finished with six points in a 50-40 loss that marked one of Georgia’s worst offensive performances in years. In his last game, Georgia’s fifth straight loss, Thompkins managed just seven points on 3-of-9 shooting and played only 22 minutes.
“I wouldn’t say I’m in much of a lull or a soft spot in my game,” Thompkins said, “but I guess I’m going through it right now – a small rookie wall or something like that. But I’m going to fight through it.”
The struggles haven’t affected Thompkins demeanor, however, and that’s a positive sign for a young player, Swansey said.
“That’s one of the biggest things Coach Felton has stressed for him,” Swansey said. “You’ve just got to be patient. It’s tough in this league to be successful, even for the upper classmen. So to be a freshman and handle it as good as he has, I think he’s done a good job.”
The team’s losses have been every bit as frustrating as his personal struggles, but Thompkins said he thinks both he and his teammates are starting to settle into a groove.
The setbacks have served as a good learning experience, he said, underscoring where he still needs to improve and giving him a template for success.
“He’s a very smart player, and I feel like he’s caught on real quick,” senior forward Terrance Woodbury said. “He knows what he can do, and he’s working on the things he can’t do. He’s taking the necessary steps. He’s still got a lot to learn, but he’s open to it, and that’s always good for young players.”