Filed By David Uchiyama
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- D.J. Thompson's jersey will probably hang from the rafters of the Holmes Convocation Center in the near future.
Friday night, after Appalachian State's 89-87 overtime loss to the College of Charleston, the white No. 11 jersey covered a Pirates hat pulled low over his eyes at the post-game news conference.
He wanted to be anywhere but before a bank of bright lights and microphones. He wanted to be back on that floor. He wanted another chance.
So what was running through his mind as the bill of his Pittsburgh cap shaded his teary eyes? What was running through his head after a 2-for-16 showing from the floor that included a half-court shot at the end of overtime to close the final margin?
He leaned forward a bit, and spoke, but it came out as barely more than a whisper: "I let my team down. I let my school down. I let the fans down."
Coach Houston Fancher quickly and emphatically interjected.
"That's why his team deserves to be in the NCAA tournament -- because of the heart of kids like this. That's what's going through his head right now.
"Not that he had a bad game himself, but he let down the people he wanted to do well for. That's what belongs in tournaments. That's what deserves rewards."
But no trophy can ease the pain he felt Friday night. Only a ring -- a SoCon tournament championship ring. Seeing ASU mentioned on Selection Sunday would certainly help, but it wouldn't be a ring.
And it was in his grasp. A typical Thompson night, even a slightly off night, or simply one more free throw would have easily carried the Mountaineers into the finals against Davidson on Saturday.
One more free throw from Donte Minter with 2.2 seconds left in regulation would have more than likely sealed the deal. But it missed.
On to overtime, when for one night is re-named Dontaye Draper time. Another of the SoCon's premier point guards scored eight of Charleston's 16 points in overtime. His 38 points were a career high and third-highest scoring performance in the Charleston's history.
After the game, he smiled on the podium, and followed his coach Bobby Cremins instructions: "Drink the water guys. It's free."
Cremins, the long-time coach at Georgia Tech who got his head coaching start at ASU, had other thoughts after the game.
"This is one of the greatest games I've been involved with," Cremins said. "There was a lot of emotion with Appalachian being my old school."
His emotion, and the emotions of all the coaches, players and fans came free after the game. Fans walking to their cars chanted "C of C." Cremins cried tears of joy. Fancher stated ASU's case for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and praised Thompson -- the one person in the area building who couldn't feel worse.
He sauntered off the podium leaving Fancher there to answer more questions. With just about all of the energy left in him, he answered a few more for me outside the locker room.
The answers boiled down to this as he struggled to make eye-contact: "They needed me. I feel like everybody needed me. My team needed me. My school. The fans."
And you know what, the sports world needs more people like Thompson.
E-mail David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org