25- NOLAN THOMPSON, SENIOR CAPTAIN, GUARD, 6’3″
2011-12 stats: 25 GP, 23 GS, 31.0 MPG, 9.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 21 STL, 4 BLK, .806 FT%, .441 FG% .337 3PT%
Nolan Thompson is a special player and even more so, a special leader. In his second year as captain, Thompson will play a huge role determining the degree of success his team achieves this season. Having graduated Ryan Sharry, the Panthers will need Thompson’s offensive game to rival his defensive excellence. After a down year offensively last season, Nolan appears to have finally settled on the mechanics on his jump shot, which he has tinkered with over the last two seasons. The combination of Nolan’s ability to handle the basketball, his great shooting range and ability to score inside should make him the number two option in the offense. It’s on the other end of the floor, however, where Nolan separates himself from everyone else. His on-ball defense is second to none in the NESCAC and, I would bet, the nation. What makes Nolan’s defense extraordinary is how effortless it appears. The next time you watch him, pay attention to Nolan’s ability to slip through ball screens — if you enjoy the the finer points of basketball, it’s truly something to watch. By placing himself in the right position in these situations — something that might seem insignificant to many — Nolan in fact reduces the energy he expends on defense and avoids unnecessary contact with the screener, one of many reasons why he leads the teams in minutes played. Ultimately, therefore, it’s not Thompson’s athleticism (which is underrated, by the way) that makes him a superior defender, but his work ethic, conditioning and his incredible attention to detail. If he can apply these attributes with a similar degree of effectiveness on offense, improve his efficiency offensively and assert himself more, Thompson will be a first-team All-NESCAC selection at season’s end. If he has made this kind of substantial improvement between his junior and senior seasons (ala Ryan Sharry) Middlebury has an opportunity to make another deep NCAA Tournament run.