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Ex-hotel worker reaches goal

By RODNEY PAGE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

This was not the way Eckerd's Cerwin Thompson had envisioned it. When he left Montreal after high school to move in with his uncle in Austin, Texas, Thompson hoped to play major-college basketball. Instead, he was washing laundry and checking baggage at the local Hawthorne Suites hotel.

Thompson was an above-average player in Canada. But since he didn't compete as a prep in the United States, none of the college coaches knew about him.

Thompson sent a letter to any college he could find, but there were no offers. Frustrated, he took the hotel job in hopes that a scholarship would surface later.

It did -- six years later.

"I didn't know how the (U.S.) system works," Thompson said. "I tried to find a place to play, but it was hard. I finally had to give up and go to work."

But Thompson never stopped playing basketball. On Sunday mornings, he would battle University of Texas players on the campus courts. The 6-foot-8 Thompson held his own in the games that kept alive his dream of college ball. "Those guys kept telling me I could play with them," Thompson said. "They said I should try to play somewhere."

It wasn't until he met his future wife, Nacole, that Thompson started seriously thinking about returning to basketball. He met her while working at Hawthorne Suites. Nacole saw him play and told him he should try out for a team.

Nacole enrolled at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, in the fall, and she e-mailed nearby McLennan Community College about Thompson. He was invited to a tryout, then was told he could join the squad as a non-scholarship player.

"I quit my job, packed my bags and left," Thompson said. "I took out some student loans and got by however I could."

One semester later, he earned a scholarship. After a year at McLennan, Thompson drew some interest from Colorado State coach Dale Layer. But because of NCAA Division I eligibility rules, Thompson, then 25, couldn't play at his age.

Layer directed Thompson to Eckerd College, where Layer had served as an assistant. After a visit, Thompson was sold on the Tritons.

"We knew Cerwin could play at this level," Eckerd coach Tom Ryan said. "He's a talented player and a great inspiration to the other players."

Now a senior, the 28-year-old Thompson has excelled on and off the court.

He is second in the Sunshine State Conference with 8.7 rebounds per game, and he averages 10.4 points. He will graduate in May with a Business Administration degree and plans on returning to Texas to be with Nacole and his two children.

Thompson will leave Eckerd behind, but he never will forget the circuitous route he took to college basketball.

"Ever since I was in Canada, I wanted to play in the States," Thompson said. "A lot of guys in Canada want to play here.

"I just didn't know the system when I first got here," he said. "Now that I've experienced it, it's been the time of my life. I've lived out my dream."

TOP PLAYER: Former Dixie Hollins standout Marcus Bryant was the SSC's basketball player of the week. The Eckerd junior averaged 19.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in two victories. He played a key role in an 84-79 win over previously unbeaten Rollins on Feb. 12, scoring 24 points on 10 of 13 shooting.

SPC BASKETBALL: St. Petersburg College was tied with Polk CC atop the Suncoast Conference standings with only Saturday night's games remaining. SPC played host to rival Hillsborough CC, and Polk battled Pasco-Hernando CC. A win, coupled by a Polk loss, gives the Titans the championship. A St. Petersburg defeat or a Polk victory awards Polk the title and forces the Titans to compete Monday and Tuesday in the league playoffs. Polk owns a tie-breaker edge on SPC because of head-to-head play. Only the champion receives a bye to the state tournament. The second-place Suncoast team gets an at-large bid. If the Titans are in the conference tourney, they will entertain Manatee CC on Monday night. St. Petersburg is the defending junior college state champion.

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