Notre Dame's Lili Thompson lands 'amazing opportunity' with Harlem Globetrotters

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

Even before Lili Thompson was “drafted” this week by the Harlem Globetrotters, her multiple ties to that band of world-famous basketball merrymakers ran at least informally deep.

Thompson, 23, says she still vividly recalls as a 10-year-old being part of a summer camp in Hawaii that featured the Globetrotters, and that she still treasures photos of herself looking starry-eyed while posing back then with some of the players.

More recently, in early 2016, she became acquainted with longtime Globetrotters coach Barry Hardy after her grandfather, George Thompson, died. Hardy had played for George Thompson, a Michigan high school hall of fame coach, in the mid 1980s at Inkster and was extending his condolences to the Thompsons after his former coach’s death.

Now Lili Thompson could end up playing for Hardy.

The former Notre Dame point guard was one of five individuals, and the only woman, announced Tuesday as 2018 Globetrotter draft picks.

With no other teams involved, there was no genuine draft, and there’s no official commitment yet from either side, but for marketing purposes, the Trotters annually conduct the so-called draft as a way to reveal some of their potential new players.

Nevertheless, Thompson sounded plenty excited Wednesday.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity, and for me, it’s kind of a serendipity,” Thompson said, alluding to her previous links with the organization. “The Globetrotters represent joy in basketball, service to communities and great entertainment, and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”

Thompson, who grew up in a military family and often moved, points out that the Globetrotters have long been active at military bases.

“That’s how I was originally introduced to them,” Thompson said, referring to the camp in Hawaii, “and now there’s a chance that it could kind of come full circle for me. That would be an awesome experience to work with kids in that way.”

“She’s got all the attributes to be a Harlem Globetrotter,” Trotter legend and director of player personnel Sweet Lou Dunbar said Wednesday evening by phone of Thompson.

“She’s got talent, she’s a people person, she’s a great young lady from what I’m told, and the biggest thing — she already loves the Globetrotters,” Dunbar said with a chuckle. “I think she’d be a perfect fit.”

First, though, before Thompson can fit as a player for anybody, she must continue her recovery from the season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament she suffered to her right knee last Dec. 31 during Notre Dame’s win at Wake Forest.

At the time of the injury, Thompson was leading the Irish in both assists (4.6) and steals (1.6) to go with 5.9 points per game.

The graduate transfer, who previously starred at perennial power Stanford, watched ND go on to win the national title while she and three other injured players extended their support from the bench.

“It’s doing very, very well,” Thompson said from Colorado of her knee. “It’s difficult to give (a percentage on how the knee is relative to 100), and I’m not setting a date (for reaching 100 percent) because I want to do everything right and in order, but it’s coming along well.”

Thompson, who earned a master’s degree in management from Notre Dame last month, says she will not meet with the Globetrotters about a possible contract until mid-August, when she visits their Atlanta headquarters.

In the meantime, she’s staying busy with a series of Point Guard College camps as an instructor and co-director.

She’s in the fourth week of a nine-week commitment at various sites around the country. The camps offer a “pretty intense” experience, per Thompson, to mostly high school players. The daily schedule, which includes classroom and playing sessions, stretches about 13 hours.

An intense player herself, performing for the Globetrotters would entail a shift, as the Trotters are known as much for their comic bits as for their skills during their exhibitions.

“I think I’ve got a little flair to me,” the 5-foot-7 Thompson said of the ball-handling wizardry that is often associated with Globetrotter appearances.

Asked if she has any particular tricks she’s worked on over the years, Thompson, already sounding a bit like a magician, offered that “you’ll have to wait and see. … Come to the show.”

Which might be possible in South Bend next winter. If she joins the Globetrotters, she’ll be assigned to one of three traveling rosters. The Trotters have not set their full schedule for the coming year, but have often appeared at ND’s Purcell Pavilion in January.

“That would be great,” Thompson said of the possibility.

Regardless of whether that particular stop materializes, Thompson envisions a wealth of good times with the Globetrotters, who have had 17 female players during their 92-year history.

“I’ve always admired how high-level the players are, as well as what they’re doing,” Thompson said. “They literally get to travel the globe and serve kids and communities, and it’s an honor that they recognized my talents.

“As a young 20-something lucky enough to have no student debt, name a better situation than traveling the world, playing some basketball and bringing some joy.”

A photo frame shows a current picture of Lili Thompson, left, with pictures of 10-year-old Lili posing with some members of the Harlem Globetrotters during a basketball camp in Hawaii.

“The Globetrotters represent joy in basketball, service to communities and great entertainment, and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”

Former Notre Dame point guard Lili Thompson