DePaul Loses Hall of Fame Basketball Star M.C. Thompson
May 14, 2018
CHICAGO – DePaul lost one of the greatest rebounders in its storied basketball history when M.C. Thompson passed away on May 3 in Douglasville, Ga. at the age of 77.
The 6-foot, 5-inch forward is No. 1 all-time in career rebounding average at 13.7 and No. 1 in season rebounding average at 15.4. His three-year total of 972 rebounds is second all-time to Dave Corzine (1974-78) who finished with 1,151.
After helping Marshall in 1958 become the first Public League school to win the state championship, Thompson led the Blue Demons in rebounding his three seasons in Lincoln Park at a time when freshmen were not eligible. He was also the top scorer his final two years.
The soft-spoken legendary leaper led DePaul to the NIT as a sophomore in 1960-61 averaging 16.3 points and 13.3 rebounds per game. His numbers were 16.3 points and 15.4 rebounds as a junior, and he closed out his career leading the Blue Demons back to the NIT averaging 15.6 points and 12.4 boards.
“He was the prototypical power forward, a big-time rebounder who was really tough from the foul line down,” said his former teammate and close friend Emmette Bryant. “M.C. was one of the best rebounders in all of Division I.”
Another ex-teammate, Bill Debes, could personally attest to Thompson’s prowess at defying the laws of gravity.
“As a freshman player, M.C. and I worked for Frank McGrath on his Alumni Hall maintenance team,” Debes said. “So after work, we played one-on-one on the big court.
“During one game, M.C. jumped so high he bumped his head on the lower portion of the backboard and said to me: ‘Boy Bill, you got some mean elbows.’
“I looked at him and said: ‘M.C., you hit your head on the backboard. You leaped over three feet.’ Later, I told Coach Ray (Meyer) and Coach Frank, and the next thing you knew, there was padding on the backboard. The spring in his leap was truly unbelievable.
“He was a quiet leader, and I enjoyed playing on his team for four years.”
Thompson was indeed a different person on and off the court.
“His personality was actually a little timid and quiet,” Bryant said. “He wasn’t aggressive away from basketball. When you saw him on the court, he looked ferocious at 6-5 and was such an intimidating figure.
“Off the court, you had to get to know him to truly enjoy his company. He was witty and a fun guy to be around.”
Bryant and Thompson were around each other all the time. In addition to basketball, both Blue Demons lived at the Isham YMCA at Division and Ashland because there were no dorms in the early 1960s.
The duo also played on the same Park District summer team at a time when the playground league was as competitive and likely more physical than their NCAA competition.
“You went against the best players in the city, and some were college athletes,” Bryant said. “On our team, Jerry Harkness and some of his Loyola teammates joined up with us.
“What I’ll always remember about M.C. is his charity work and all the volunteering. Both of us along with our other teammates Dick Cook and Jesse Nash lived at the Isham YMCA. M.C. did a lot of charity stuff with the ‘Y’ and also worked with kids at the DePaul Settlement House.
“M.C. always had a big heart.”
Former teammate Jim Flemming noted this year is the 60th anniversary of Thompson’s state championship at Marshall.
“He was a key contributor to that Marshall team,” Flemming said. “That team had four Division I players in M.C., George Wilson, Ralph Wells and Jim Pitts.
“At DePaul, he brought his hops and strength, and at 6-5 was very effective offensively around the basket. He even filled in on the golf team because he caddied and played at the Jackson Park Golf Course.”
In Thompson’s three-year career, the Blue Demons were 45-26 with the pair of NIT appearances.
Thompson continued his dominance the following season averaging a double-double, celebrated a win over rival Notre Dame and topped Louisville in the longest game in Blue Demon history (three overtimes).
Thompson finished up his career in style again averaging a double-double for the 15-8 team that opened the season winning eight in row. DePaul won four of its last five games before falling to Villanova in the NIT.
Following his senior season, he was selected by the New York Knicks in the 1963 NBA draft. Thompson was inducted into the DePaul Hall of Fame in 1979.
His life will be celebrated at a 10 a.m. memorial service Saturday at New Genesis Assembly of God, 1400 N. Laramie Ave.
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