Stanford hoops transfer Lili Thompson brings experience, aspirations to Notre Dame
Lili Thompson has aspirations.
At the bottom of the 5-foot-7 point guard’s Stanford biography page, under the “personal” section, her future career is listed as “a corporate and tech attorney with an eye on becoming President of the United States.”
But until then, she’ll play basketball — just not at Stanford.
The future Notre Dame point guard started 94 games in three seasons in Palo Alto, Calif., from 2013 to 2016, averaging 12 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. The team’s collective success mirrored her own, as Stanford reached a Final Four, an Elite Eight and a Sweet Sixteen in her three seasons on the roster. A two-time All-Pac-12 selection, she was named a team captain before starting 30 games and averaging 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.4 rebounds in her junior season.
And then, with a season of eligibility remaining, she walked away.
“It wasn’t about losing my love for the game,” Thompson said last week. “I just think it was in my best interest to take a year off from playing here at Stanford. I love my teammates. I love competing. We obviously were very successful.
“But a lot of times there are things that are bigger than basketball, both in my personal life and in general. For me to be able to focus on other things and just take a breather from basketball here at Stanford … I thought that would be the best decision. Coming up on a year from making that decision, it has turned out to be the best decision I could have made.”
For Thompson, one decision yielded another. In lieu of a senior season, she could have entered the WNBA Draft. She could have traded basketball for graduate school. She could have pursued a sport she grew up playing, golf, which often lingered in the back of her mind.
“But I think there’s something special about women’s college basketball,” Thompson concluded, “and I wanted to be a part of it for another year.”
Ultimately, Thompson made a list of potential landing spots for a one-year graduate transfer, somewhere where she could A.) earn a quality Master’s degree, and B.) chase a national championship.
She scheduled a number of visits, but after seeing Notre Dame, she canceled the rest.
“I didn’t want to have other teams spend money for me to visit or spend time when they could recruit someone else,” Thompson said. "I felt like I was going to make a final decision to be at Notre Dame.”
Notre Dame and Stanford, of course, have plenty in common. The two programs have met in the NCAA Tournament in three consecutive seasons, with the Cardinal advancing in both 2016 and 2017. Thompson, in fact, scored 11 points and added nine assists in a 90-84 upset victory over the Irish in the Sweet Sixteen in 2016.
But that’s not the only competition Thompson cares about.
“I wanted to get a degree that would not only be applicable to what I studied but kind of be on the same tier academically. I think Notre Dame definitely offers that,” Thompson said. “When I went on my visit I got to talk to a lot of academic advisors, a lot of professors. I think there’s a lot of resources for me there outside of basketball, and that’s also important.”
All things considered, it’s easy to see why Thompson might be interested in Notre Dame.
But what made that interest mutual?
“Lili is an excellent player with very good court sense and a fine mid-range jumper,” said San Francisco Chronicle sportswriter Tom Fitzgerald, who covered Thompson at Stanford. “She mainly played the (shooting guard position) for Stanford, but she's certainly capable of playing the point.”
Thompson will need to do just that at Notre Dame. Standout point guard Lindsay Allen is headed to the WNBA and sophomore backup Ali Patberg will transfer to Indiana. Moreover, both of Notre Dame’s incoming freshmen are front court prospects — forwards Danielle Patterson and Mikayla Vaughn.
Notre Dame has a glaring point guard need, and Thompson looks primed to fill it.
“I think that I can bring experience and leadership at the point guard position,” said Thompson, who shot 37.2 percent from behind the arc in her three-year Cardinal career. “I think that on any team, any player just wants to be dynamic, contribute on both sides of the floor and really just be a leader.
“I think it’s important to step into the team and lead by example but also learn from the girls that are there, learn from the coaching staff. That’s part of the process, figuring out how all the pieces fit together.”
Even without Allen, Patberg and transferring forward Erin Boley, the Irish have plenty of pieces. Guards Arike Ogunbowale, Marina Mabrey and Jackie Young bring size and scoring to Notre Dame’s back court. Junior All-American forward Brianna Turner is hoping to return at some point from a torn ACL.
As for Thompson, she’ll graduate from Stanford with a degree in science, technology and society with a focus on organization and innovation this spring. The Mansfield, Texas, native will arrive at Notre Dame this summer to begin workouts and pursue a Master’s degree in business management.
Those degrees, one would think, will look pretty impressive on a résumé to become President of the United States. But first, she’ll chase a national championship.
How’s that for aspirations?