Husson University's Justin Thompson (center) is greeted by his teammates after scoring his 1,000th career points during a Dec. 4, 2021, game against the University of Maine at Presque Isle at Newman Gymnasium in Bangor Credit: Courtesy of Drew Hallett / Husson University

Justin Thompson has scored nearly 3,000 points during his high school and collegiate basketball careers.

But as the East Millinocket native reflects on such offensive accomplishments — the latest coming last Saturday when he surpassed 1,000 career points at Husson University — he doesn’t consider them the defining elements of his ascension from the state’s small-school ranks at Schenck High School to the highly competitive world of New England Division III basketball.

“I’ve seen guys score 30 points a game in high school and then get to the next level and it’s not what they thought it would be,” he said. “Just embracing your role and being a good player and a coachable player will get you further than you think it will.”

Graduate student Justin Thompson of East Millinocket, a fifth-year player on the Husson University men’s basketball team. Credit: Ernie Clark / BDN

Thompson’s role, whether at Schenck where he scored 1,756 career points and was a 2017 Mr. Basketball semifinalist and two-time Bangor Daily News All-Maine honoree, or at Husson where he is approaching 100 games played, has not been defined by position, either.

A 6-foot-4, 210-pound fifth-year student, he is typically described as a wing but has played every position except point guard for Husson coach Warren Caruso, much as he displayed similar versatility at Schenck for his father, former Wolverines’ head coach Darrick Thompson.

“JT’s a bit of a hybrid,” Caruso said. “He sees the game well so he’s able to know when to score at the rim or when to give it up to the open person. Early on he was best posting up, but his game has continued to develop and now he plays facing the basket more times than not.”

Thompson’s versatility aids Husson in numerous ways, most noticeably in using his athleticism to the team’s advantage no matter the opponent.

“We’ve been able to play some lineups, particularly over the last two years, where we can find a mismatch,” Caruso said. “Usually a bigger guy’s guarding him, so he can work off the dribble, or  if they want to put a smaller guy on him then we can post him up.”

Whether at Schenck, where he averaged more than 25 points and 14 rebounds per game in each of his final two seasons, or at Husson with 16.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game through the Eagles’ 4-2 start this season, Thompson has thrived on variety.

“I’m just doing what the team needs to win,” he said. “At the end of the day whatever position coach decides to put me at I’m fine with and I definitely try to make the best of it.”

Caruso also sees Thompson’s contributions transcending the stat sheet, including when he relinquished his starting role last winter as the Eagles made the most of a makeshift schedule devoid of postseason play due to COVID-19.

The Eagles went undefeated in 10 mostly in-state games, setting the stage for the team’s pursuit of its first NCAA Division III tournament berth since 2019 this winter.

Husson University’s Justin Thompson of East Millinocket drives to the basket against the University of Maine at Presque Isle on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, to score his 1,000th career point with the Eagles at Newman Gymnasium in Bangor. Husson went on to win the game 84-81. Credit: Courtesy of Drew Hallett / Husson University

“JT’s communication on the floor, during timeouts and during practice with his teammates has just elevated us and him and his game,” Caruso said. “He didn’t blink an eye when we asked him to come off the bench last year, and this year we’ve moved him back into the starting lineup just because he’s playing at such a high level.”

Thompson hopes to continue capitalizing on his basketball acumen after his playing career ends and he graduates from Husson in May with a bachelor’s degree in sport management and a master’s in business administration.

“Coaching is something I’ve had my sights on,” he said. “Getting a job and definitely trying to give back through coaching, those are things I want for sure.”

But first comes Husson’s bid to return to the NCAAs.

The Eagles were picked to win the North Atlantic Conference East Division title in a preseason coaches poll, but a bulked-up league that now boasts 12 teams split between East and West — with five New York schools in the six-team West — makes the challenge as competitive as ever.

Husson’s 84-81 victory over UMPI marked the Eagles’ conference opener. The Eagles resume NAC play Jan. 7 with a showdown at West preseason favorite SUNY-Canton.

“We know we haven’t peaked yet and can definitely play a lot better,” Thompson said. “Taking advantage of our opportunities in practice everyday and just looking to get better and wanting to peak when we get into conference play is really our goal for the next month.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...