By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — Relationships matter in recruiting, and the bond between Arkansas associate head coach Chris Crutchfield and the family of 2020 Bryce Thompson has gone a long way so far in the Hoop Hogs’ pursuit of the national 5-star recruit.
After having his Arkansas scholarship offer reaffirmed almost immediately after head coach Eric Musselman hired Crutchfield on May 17, Thompson (6-4 shooting guard, Tulsa Booker T. Washington High School, 17U OK Run PWP, ESPN national No. 25 / a 5-star prospect) ended up in Fayetteville on June 25 for an unofficial visit on the Hogs’ campus to mark the first high school prospect to come in for a visit in the Musselman era at Arkansas.
“Great time at Arkansas. Thanks to coach Musselman and staff for hosting me!” was Thompson’s Twitter salute to the Hogs’ program the day following his visit, and now more than three weeks later as he prepares for Team USA U18 training camp (June 23-28 in Colorado Springs, Colo.) Thompson’s recruitment may be on a fast-track to ending with a pledge in time for the mid-November, week-long early signing period.
“I think early,” Rod Thompson, Bryce’s Dad, said Friday when asked if his son would sign in November or wait for the spring signing period that will begin in mid-April 2020.
Rod Thompson spoke at length Friday about Bryce Thompson’s upcoming visits, his recent offer from St. John’s and former Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson, as well as his most-recent Arkansas visit and the key role that Crutchfield’s relationship with the Thompson family has played in his son’s Arkansas recruitment.
“I don’t see us taking all five (offiical visits), probably three,” Rod Thompson said. “We’ve taken a lot of visits (junior-year official and unofficial, including taking a mix of both to Arkansas over the past couple of years), so we’ve seen a lot of schools. We might just take those last (official) visits to schools we aren’t as familiar with.”
Regarding the St. John’s offer that came down this week, Rod Thompson did not rule out a visit to New York.
“St. John’s and Texas Tech both have jumped in late with offers, so we’ll see where that goes,” he said.
As for the Arkansas visit on June 25 — it was sandwiched in between unofficial visits to North Carolina and Kansas — Rod Thompson painted a glowing picture.
“It was really good, really really good,” Rod Thompson said. “Just to sit down with the staff, listen to them, and get to talk and get their perspective. It was really impressive. Their breakdown with everything — on and off the court — was really outstanding.
“They talked about Bryce’s game and what they were able to see, broke down his stats and what stood out, what he can work on, and how they see his fit in their system. They were detailed. Everybody’s dream is to make it to the NBA, and Musselman is well-connected. That makes a big difference.”
Thompson led the 2019 Under Armour Association circuit in scoring at 25.3 point per game while registering 30 or more points five times and failing to reach at least 20 points only twice in 14 games. He was ninth in the league in field goal percentage (53.9% on 123-of-228 field goals) while being a knockdown threat from 3 (46.8%) and having the ninth-most makes from distance per game (2.2). He also averaged 3.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
Mid-June was the first time Arkansas’s entire coaching staff — Musselman, Crutchfield, assistant coach Corey Williams, and assistant coach Clay Moser — was able to watch Bryce Thompson play in person during the prestigious NBPA Top 100 Camp in Charlotteville, Va., and last week during the first July live-period the Hogs’ coaching staff typically had more than one of its coaches courtside to watch him during the UAA Finals in Atlanta.
It’s a full-court press of recruiting attention that Arkansas is heaping on Bryce Thompson, and at the heart of it all is lead recruiter Crutchfield, who has known Thompson since he was a “baby”, and as the associate head coach at Oklahoma prior to accepting the same position at Arkansas he was the Sooners’ lead recruiter for Thompson.
“He knew Bryce before Bryce knew himself,” Rod Thompson said of Crutchfield. “We’ve known him since he was at (Oral Roberts University). Then at OU, he recruited Bryce hard. I coached both of his (Crutchfield’s) kids.
“It makes a huge difference having that kind of relationship, and we’re relationship people.”
Aside from friendly familiarity with the Thompsons, Crutchfield has a proven track-record in recruiting, mentoring, and developing next-level talent at the guard position. Bryce and Rod Thompson both had a front-row seat to take in Crutchfield’s impact with two Sooners guards — Buddy Hield and Trae Young — who in recent seasons became arguably the two best players in the country.
Hield earned back-to-back Big 12 Player of the Year awards (2015-16) as well as the John R. Wooden Award and Naismith College Player of the Year in 2016, and he was selected sixth overall (a lottery pick) in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft. Young was Big 12 Freshman of the Year, All Big 12 first team, and a consensus first team All American as a Sooners freshman in ’17-18 before being selected fifth overall (a lottery pick) in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft. Both guards made the NBA’s All Rookie team.
“You take Buddy Hield and Trae Young and help them have the success they achieved, it makes a big difference as a recruiter,” Rod Thompson said.
In addition to the Hogs, Tar Heels, and Jayhawks, Bryce Thompson holds offers from Michigan State, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Colorado, Texas A&M, St. John’s, and many more high-major programs.
He originally received an Arkansas offer from Anderson last year, and he took one of his junior-year official visits to Arkansas in October 2018. He’s been on multiple unofficial visits to Arkansas in recent years.
Linked below are a couple of Bryce Thompson highlight videos, one from NBPA Top 100 Camp in June and the other from 2019 UAA spring/summer circuit play …