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One thing is for certain in Thursday's NIT title game, North Carolina coach Roy Williams said today: senior Deon Thompson will start the final game of his career. And the forward will set a new record for NCAA games played with 152, surpassing Florida’s Walter Hodge and Kentucky’s Wayne Turner.
“He has come a long, long way, from a 6-foot-4 inch, 304-pound offensive lineman as a freshman in high school, to where his is now -- playing more games than anybody in the history of college basketball,’’ said Williams, whose team will face Dayton at Madison Square Garden.
Indeed, Thompson – a three-year starter who has played in two NCAA Final Fours and earned a national title ring last season – said he never imagined he’d approach such a mark.
Initially, he was such an afterthought in a class that included Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Brandan Wright (who are now all playing in the NBA), that two mid-major coaches told Williams “to keep them in mind when he decided to transfer,’’ Williams remembered.
“And last year, I reminded both of them that their butts were sitting in the stands in Detroit [during the title game], and Deon scored seven points in the first six minutes of the game.”
Playing for an NIT title is bittersweet, Thompson said, after so much NCAA success. But ending his career on a positive note – with a victory – would leave him with more special memories.
“We’ve definitely been through our ups and downs, but that fact that we’ve been able to fight through it, and find ourselves here in the NIT championship says a lot to everyone’s character on this team -- to not give in to losing and to continue to show up to practice every day, and to work,’’ he said.