Evelyn Thompson became the interim head coach of the Stony Brook University women's basketball team on Jan. 16. Thompson had been the lead assistant to Michele Cherry, who resigned with the team's record at 3-13.
Thompson hopes the interim title will be dropped. "As an assistant, in my opinion, you are always striving to move forward and do better,'' she said, "so obviously the next step for me was a head-coaching position. I didn't necessarily think it would be at Stony Brook, but most certainly I thought I would have an opportunity to be a head coach at some point.
"I think any position I'm in, I should be seriously considered. I think my time on the court and off, as a player and as a coach, proves I'm a person to be reckoned with. So to not be considered a serious candidate would be disappointing. So I don't consider myself a caretaker, though that's certainly a role I have to play and any coach has to play. But I think it is an opportunity for me to prove that I am ready for this position as the head coach.''
Thompson, a graduate of Auburn, assisted for five seasons at Buffalo and two more at Michigan State before arriving at Stony Brook in 2009.
She did not expect the departure of Cherry. "It's never an easy thing to have to deal with,'' she said. "Especially with the fact that Michele and I have been friends for quite some time. It was a difficult situation. That being said, it's also a situation where I had to make a decision. I made a decision [to accept the job], so we had to move forward.
"The preparedness thing was never one of the issues that came into play for me. I tell our players all the time you have to be prepared for every situation. I've been in this business for quite some time, so to be prepared for a head-coaching position, I think I was certainly prepared for it.''
Thompson took over a team that had injuries to key players. Senior guard Misha Horsey was lost for the season, senior guard Jodie Plikus missed 13 games and is out indefinitely, and sophomore guard Talisha Bridges has missed the last six games.
"You go from a senior-led team to a sophomore-led team,'' Thompson said. "You lose not only that senior leadership but you lose X number of points a game. You lose that confidence, that experience on the floor. A lot of people don't understand injuries and how they affect a team. One injury can affect a team; when you lose two, it makes it very difficult; when you lose three, it becomes not only chemistry but, from a mental standpoint, a challenge.''
Thompson is 1-3 since taking over, but she is more concerned about overall improvement on a daily basis. "The rest of the season has to be about proving what we are made of, sticking with it,'' she said. "Showing that perseverance is going to get us some respect. We have to prove to people that we are a force to be reckoned with.
"In order to do that, we have to go out and play every game like it's our last game - and soon that will be the case, because we only have [eight] games left in conference play. Then we go hopefully into the tournament and make an impact. But it is about moving forward and getting them in a position both mentally and physically to understand that we are capable of success.
"I'm happy with the effort. The focus now is to make sure we get 10 percent better every day. If we do, that means we're much better than the day before.''
Thompson said she is not worried about her future in coaching. "I think I put enough time and enough energy into this business and I think enough people know me and know my body of work to understand that I'm going to get in there and grind and do what I have to do in order to win,'' she said, "but I'm also going to do it with respect for the game and respect for the people I work with and do it the right way. I have faith and I never worry too much about what's going to come tomorrow. I'm too busy taking care of today to worry about tomorrow.''
Thompson has the support of her players. "It was very shocking, very unexpected, but you have to deal with what's been presented to you,'' junior Tamiel Murray said. "You have to keep taking steps forward. She [Thompson] expects a lot out of us, as coach Cherry did. It's transitioning into someone new, but she still has the same expectations. She picked up from where coach Cherry left off. I hope all of our coaches are able to stay. It would be great to finish out my college career with the coaches that I've had through three years.''
Athletic director Jim Fiore was asked about his plans for Thompson. "Right now, our singular focus is on the remainder of this season and to prepare our team to peak for the America East Conference championship in March,'' Fiore wrote in an e-mail. "My staff and I have not yet begun the official process for hiring our next head coach, but when the time is right, I am sure coach Thompson and I will discuss her interest.
"That said, we are committed to a national search for a new head coach; wherein the integrity of that search process will ultimately determine the integrity of the result of such process.
"Coach Thompson provides much-needed experience, leadership and discipline to our women's basketball team and has managed what could be for most a difficult midseason transition with both dignity and class. I've been impressed with Evelyn's commitment to our student-athletes as she has had our team schematically prepared to win and most importantly prepared to compete in every practice and game.''