Former Cardinal basketball player Tony Thompson ’90 of Nashville, TN, knows a thing or two about college basketball and he’s using his experiences to influence the lives of hundreds of young players.
Thompson is founder and president of the Tennessee Edge, an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) club basketball program for boys ages 11 to 17 who want to play in an off-season competitive league and attract the attention of college scouts. Inspired by the type of program he wants for his own son, now age 6, Thompson founded the Edge in 2006 with just 12 players and one team. Now the Edge operates with six teams and is expanding to include girls’ teams next year.
Edge teams have won national AAU tournament championships with average players who work incredibly hard and aren’t necessarily destined for big-time collegiate programs, says Thompson. “I currently have 20-plus kids playing at the D1A, D1AA and D2 levels, with four playing internationally,” he says.
Players come from cities in Tennessee like Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis, as well as Mississippi, Alabama and southern Kentucky. “Parents are willing to drive to Nashville because they know the kids are learning the game in a structured environment,” says Thompson, who would like to expand his program with the help of corporate sponsorship.
Parents also like the program’s emphasis on discipline and academics, inspired by Thompson’s memories of coach Bill Warden ’55 at North Central. Thompson played on Cardinal teams that won three College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin championships. “Coach Warden wanted us to understand that no matter what you do in Merner Field House, your grades in the classroom had to come first,” he says. “We were to give equal time to the gym and the classroom. And many of my teammates have gone on to successful careers.”
Thompson stresses the importance of school because most of his players are destined for NCAA Division II or III schools where academics are more heavily emphasized. Increasingly, players in Division I programs abandon their educations for professional contracts. Thompson also brings in guest speakers who talk about future careers, standardized tests, peer pressure and college life.
In addition to running the Edge, Thompson works as a personal trainer/coach for high school basketball players who want individualized attention. Recently he was named a national scout for the National Collegiate Scouting Association. All this represents a major career change for Thompson, who spent 17 years working for Nextel Sprint. “It’s a way for me to make a difference. Plus I figured that working in youth basketball was a more secure job field because I’ll never run out of kids.”
Contact Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit
North Central NOW Fall 2010