January 27, 2012
Shaq Thompson down to Final 3; enjoyed visits from Oregon, Cal, Washington

The home visits are over, the road trips, too. Now it's extra think-tank time for Shaq Thompson.

The Grant High School All-American safety said he has narrowed the final four college scholarship destination programs down to three. The programs are, in no particular order: Cal, Oregon, Washington and UCLA. He said tonight, "There are three schools still in it, and I can't tell the schools, but everybody will see Wednesday (on National Signing Day) and I'll make my final choice."

Four possibilities, three serious contenders, one winner. Which program is the odd one out?

Thompson isn't being a showman here. It's not his style, but he admitted that a little suspense doesn't hurt this sort of game - and it's the norm with scores of 5-star recruits across the country any more as this is their golden moment as a prep, announcing where they will go. Thompson at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds is rated by most as the No. 1 safety prospect in the country. He'd surely be rated high as a tailback, too, given his ability with a ball in his hands.

How unique is Thompson? The last time the Sacramento-area had a non-linemen this heavily recruited was Kevin Willhite of Cordova in 1981, the National Player of the Year who went to Oregon, started four years in the backfield at fullback after leg injuries robbed him of his breakaway speed, graduated and now manages a paper manufacturing firm in Sacramento.

Thompson is the most sought-after Grant athlete since Onterrio Smith in 1998, when he set NorCal career rushing records. He finished college at Oregon and played in the NFL. Thompson will immediately impact a college program. The coaches will appreciate his work ethic and skills. His professors will appreciate that he cares about school just as much. Fans will be moved by his movements in the open field.

All told, Thompson is as genuine and humble a high school super star athlete as I have encountered in all my years at The Bee, dating back to 1988. Coaches at Grant remind Shaq that he has no idea how great he can be, and he disdains statistics and highlight footage in reminding it's a team game and he's merely a part of the machine. Yeah, as the diesel engine with speed.

Thompson always talks about how he can be a better leader, how he can improve his game, his team's game, how he can impact the lives of students on campus, or in his hard-boiled neighborhood where so many kids just hope to get into a college.

The one image I have of Thompson isn't him reversing field as a tailback and buckling foes with his breakaway speed. It isn't separating a receiver from the ball with a closing-speed tackle that makes you think 18-wheeler vs. VW Bug. It's Thompson with Grant teammate James Sample visiting an 8-year old boy in a Sacramento hospital after the boy's third open-heart surgery. The boy asked his parents for one wish: To meet Shaq and Sample. He got that wish, and he wept when they entered the hospital room.

Said Shaq then, "I had no idea people knew who I was and that I was that important to them. Very humbling."

That boy, named Camiloo Graniel, is now healthy. He was a regular at Grant games this past season, wearing a Shaq photo button and jumping every time his hero made a play. The boy jumped a ton (look up hospital footage on Youtube).

Thompson knows how fortunate he is. His older brother Syd was a four year starter at cornerback for Cal and is a second-year corner for the Denver Broncos. Syd has said that football got him into college, got him an education, matured him.

So you can guess where Syd wants kid brother to go - Cal. And Cal is where Thompson gave a verbal commitment earlier this month, ecstatic over the chance to come in with other heralded freshmen. But when Cal assistant coach and recruiting guru Tosh Lupoi suddenly bolted for Washington, Thompson was suddenly torn. He said then it was Cal and Washington "50-50." Then Jeff Tedford of Cal, who landed Syd years earlier, made a home visit on Thursday.

Then Lupoi and Washington applied a full-court pressure of sorts on Thompson to consider Washington, where Sample - Thompson's teammate that went to visit Camilo at the hospital - is in the secondary. Lupoi and an army of Huskies coaches visited the Thompson home on Thursday as well.

Then Chip Kelly of Oregon on Friday charmed Thompson with the idea of being a Duck, of competing for a BCS title, of the academic structure in Eugene, the wow facilities.

And quietly, UCLA made inroads. New coach Jim Mora made a home visit last month and assistant coach Angus McClure stopped by the Grant campus earlier this week.

Thompson said he was touched and flattered to learn that so many fans are curious as to where he will go, understanding that scores of those "fans" will turn on him via Twitter venom if he doesn't wind up wearing their colors.

"(The home visits) were all good," Thompson said. "I'm still deciding. I love all my fans. I just have to make the best choice for me."

It is interesting to note that UCLA invited Thompson to make an unofficial visit next week - after Wednesday's National Letter of Intent day. Thompson said tonight he is not taking any more trips. He's finished. Does that exclude UCLA from the Shaq Sweepstakes? Not necessarily. Why take a trip after Wednesday if you're set to announce on Wednesday? And consider this: There have already been enough twists in turns in this recruiting journey, to what's one or two or three more?
* Joe Davidson joins Kim Grinolds and Brandon Huffman on KJR 950 on Saturday morning at 8:20 a.m. to talk recruiting. The show can be heard online: http://www.sportsradiokjr.com/main.html.
* Davidson will also co-host the SureWestSports Radio Show in Sacramento from 9-10 a.m. on ESPN1320. That program will be linked by 1 p.m. on ESPN1320.net.

About the Prep blog

Bee staff writers Joe Davidson and Bill Paterson provide news, analysis and insight on the area high school sports scene in their Prep Blog. Have a question to ask them? Send them an email any time at jdavidson@sacbee.com or bpaterson@sacbee.com.

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