Hoop stars eager to play with peers
MHS’s Runner, PHS’s Thompson on North squad
   Local basketball standouts T.J. Thompson, of Preston, and Sam Runner, of Morgantown, will team up as members of the North team in the North-South All-Star Basketball Classic, scheduled for June 18 at the South Charleston Community Center.

   Runner, now a Morgantown High graduate, is looking forward to playing alongside athletes who are normally on the opposing team.

   “All of the guys that I’ll be playing with are good players and we have respect for each other,” Runner said. “We know what each of us can do on the court and I look forward to playing with them. It will be neat.”

   Weir High coach Mike Granato will be coaching the North team and says the all-star game provides valuable opportunities for the athletes.

   “The kids get an opportunity to test their abilities against the best players in the state and make friends and gain relationships that they will remember for the rest of their lives,” he said.

   According to Runner, being selected to the North team is a great way to round out his senior year.

   “It’s a big deal for me,” he said. “It’s only a select number of people and it’s nice to be able to be included in that group of guys.”

   Being selected to the North team solidifies Runner’s reputation as one of the best graduating seniors in the state. A second-team all- stater who averaged 15.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, Runner will bring consistency to the North team.

   “We had 20 games this year and he was in double figures for probably 18 of them,” Morgantown High coach Tom Yester said.

   Runner also brings a host of skills to the table.

   “He’s got a good pull-up jump shot, he’s a good foul shooter, he’s a team player, he rebounds decently and he’s a good shot blocker,” Yester said.

   Preston coach Barry Sanders said he thinks Thompson will have a lot to offer as well.

   “His work ethic is his number one strength,” he said of Thompson. “But he’s a great shooter and ball handler. Some people don’t realize how great of a ball handler he is.”

   Those very abilities that Thompson possesses will be essential to the success of the North team.

   “I’ve had the opportunity to see T.J. play for the last three years,” Granato said. “He’s a shooting guard who can really knock it down. I’m kind of glad he’s on my side for a change.”

   Those skills, however, will have to be fine tuned before game time.

   “With activities like graduation and beach trips, they need to make sure they keep a ball in their hand and get after it a little bit,” Granato said.

   Thompson, who averaged 22 ppg and 5 rpg and was named first team all-state, is following through on that advice.

   “I’m just going to keep working out like I have been, shoot a lot and lift,” he said.

   Runner is in the same position. “I’m obviously not in the same form I was in during the season. But I’m trying to stay in shape and just stay prepared for the game.”

   Granato is confident that Runner’s abilities will be of great benefit to the North team.

   “I haven’t seen him play live, but I’ve been told he runs the court well,” Granato said. “You know any kid coming from coach Yester is a good, quality kid.”

   In the fall, Runner will attend the College of Wooster (Ohio), where he will continue his basketball career.

   “When it came down to the decision, I just couldn’t see myself without basketball,” he said. “I’ve got four more years of basketball and I’ll be looking forward to that.”

   Thompson will fulfill his goal of playing collegiate basketball when he joins the West Virginia Wesleyan Bobcats on a full scholarship.

   Until then, however, Thompson is staying focused on the North-South game.

   “I just want to go in there, have fun and play with some guys I’ve never played with before,” he said. “Hopefully, we can get a win.”

Bob Gay/The Dominion Post file photos

Morgantown High’s Sam Runner (left) and Preston’s T.J. Thompson (right, in white) will be teammates with the North team June 18.