In March of 2019, the Peters Township girl’s basketball team capped off a 30-0 season with a 62-49 state title victory over Garnet Valley. For Journey Thompson, a freshman at the time, there was no better way to start a high school career.
She was a staple for the team all season long and had a 16-point effort in the state title game in Hershey. Naturally, her skillset led to rumblings between coaches and relatives about her receiving college offers, noise that Thompson attempted to block out while she continued to develop her game during her freshman year.
Not long after the final whistle blew in the state championship game, Thompson got a phone call.
“I got home and got in bed,” said Thompson. “My parents were still coming home, so I was home alone, and I got a call from the Pitt staff. They told me that they wanted to offer me. It was such a mix of excitement and relief. The first one is a real special moment, and I don’t think that I’m going to forget that.”
Since her freshman year, Thompson has continued to solidify herself as one of the best girls basketball players in the Pittsburgh area. With offers coming in from the likes of Boston University, Bucknell, Charlotte, Cleveland State, Duquesne, FIU, Indiana State, Kent State, Lafayette, Manhattan, UMass, Miami-Ohio, UNC Wilmington, Oakland, Penn, Quinnipiac, Robert Morris, St. John’s, Stony Brook, Western Michigan and Wofford, she has many options going forward when it comes to deciding on a place to call home after high school.
But if you were to ask a young Journey Thompson which sport she would be getting Division-I offers for, she likely would have replied with soccer. On a visit to a Nike outlet to purchase a new pair of cleats for the upcoming season, Thompson happened to have a chance encounter with someone at the store that encouraged her to come to a basketball clinic.
“I went there and it ended up being the AAU SMAC,” said Thompson. “So I ended up playing for them.”
With all of this transpiring when Thompson was in fifth grade, she attempted to play both soccer and basketball in middle school. As she continued to get taller, Thompson realized that she was finding more success on the court than on the pitch.
“As I started growing, it was harder to control my feet, but in basketball, height is kind of almost everything,” said Thompson. “I just started getting really into it. I really liked the people that you get to meet and come across playing it. It just kind of felt like my calling.”
Another opportunity came calling when Thompson tried out for the AAU Bruins. Known for boasting strong rosters filled with future college talent, the team is one of the top AAU programs in the state. Considering how young she was when she got the opportunity to compete with the Bruins, Thompson wasn’t quite sure how significant this break was for her progress as a player.
“At the time, I hadn’t realized what a big deal it was. It was only sixth grade and I didn’t realize, but obviously, as the years have gone by, you realize that the Bruins is the best AAU in our area. There’s a certain confidence that you get with the Bruins.”
Thompson and other Bruins players have the right to feel confident in their abilities. The team has produced WNBA players in Swin Cash, Kayla McBride, Ashley Battle and countless college athletes as well. With the girls playing for different schools come high school basketball season, some might guess that there are some tensions on the team. In Thompson’s eyes, those inclinations are far from the truth.
“We’ve never been fighting each other for positions and stuff. It is like a family, we are like sisters and we all get along.”
There is a certain pressure that can weigh on the mind of a high school recruit when they take the court. Some players might play with a more conservative mindset and be concerned about hurting their value and making mistakes in front of the watchful eyes of college recruiters.
“I think when you play like that, you are playing in fear,” said Thompson. “You are afraid of losing your offers, you are afraid of them being disappointed in you. That’s not going to get anything done.”
Thompson hopes to get things done during the rest of her career with Peters Township as well. An undefeated state championship run in her first year may be hard to top, especially with the competitiveness in the WPIAL this season. A main goal for Thompson is to help lead her team and take them to the next level once again.
“I really want to get my team back into the WPIALs,” said Thompson. “I think it is going to be tough because we have a hard section and our team, we have a lot of work to do to get ourselves together. I really have intentions to try and get us back pretty high in the playoffs.”
Also, with the remaining time in her high school career, Thompson wants to develop her game. She is a talented rebounder and scorer on the inside, but with a pending leap to college ball, she admits that she cannot become complacent and has to figure out ways to remain versatile on the offensive side of the ball.
“I’ve always been a big, I’ve always been put under the hoop. So, for the past year or two I’ve been trying to work on my outside game. Being 6’2”, I’m not necessarily going to play center in college because girls are taller, they’re bigger, so I’ve been working on my three, driving, being able to make moves and go to the hoop.”
Meetings with college coaches might be held over Zoom and she might “visit” colleges from the confines of her own bedroom. Still, Thompson chats with current players at schools that have shown an interest in her and has tried to get as good of a feeling as she can about certain programs without physically setting foot on campus.
“It’s trying to figure out as much about the school as you can before you jump into it.”
Thompson and Peters Township will soon jump into WPIAL playoffs with hopes of replicating that feeling that the team experienced just two years ago. Much has changed since then, but Thompson’s determination to succeed and forge her own path has not.