AREA NEWSSPORTSThe Northern Westchester Examiner

Direct Rays: Friends, Teammates Rocked by Passing of Tyrell Thompson

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Tyrell Thompson
Tyrell Thompson

Having covered his high school athletic career as close as anyone ever did, I remember a lot about the late Tyrell A. Thompson, the former Kennedy Catholic and Army basketball star, who finished his sizzling high school career with over 1,300 career points, one NYS Class B State and Federation title in 2004, and a pair of return trips to the state finals in his junior and senior seasons. I remember the four road trips we took to Glens Falls, NY and his affability at the state finals win or lose, I recall the silky smooth lefty jumper, the enduring smile, the stop, pop and drop trips through the lane, the class in which he carried himself on and off the court and his service to our country as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

And for a long time, I’ll remember the somber feeling in the pit of my gut as I tap out this sobering piece about the man we lost last week. Thompson, a 2010 West Point grad who played 86 games over four seasons with the Black Knights’ men’s basketball team, died Wednesday during a pickup basketball game in Fort Lee, VA, where he was currently stationed. The exact cause of death has yet to be released, but it is believed to have been a heart attack of some sort that the 23-year-old Mohegan Lake native suffered (preliminary results showed a possible congenital heart ailment).

Thompson and Kennedy soul mate Michelle Smyth expected good times ahead, and he was due to return home this week on military leave in an effort to settle up their boundless future as husband and wife. He called his buddy Chris Caputi, a JFK teammate and current Yorktown basketball coach, Wednesday, and the two had made plans to get the old gang together when everything changed in the blink of an eye. The 6’2” swingman never stopped ballin’ and still competed regularly for Fort Lee against U.S Army teams from other military bases. He began to feel faint while playing that night and collapsed suddenly after shooting the final jump shot of his life, a life blessed with friendship, reverence and so much more.

“I know that Tyrell wants us to live as he lived, laugh as he laughed and love as he loved,” said Caputi, still reeling days after the fact. “The world has lost a very special person and the best friend that anyone could ever ask for. There will never be another Tyrell Thompson. Tyrell was the best friend that anyone could ever ask for. Ty had that one-of-a-kind personality that would stick with you whether you knew him for 10 minutes or 10 years. He had a unique smile that he carried with him everywhere he went. No matter what kind of mood you were in, when you saw Tyrell it would automatically become better. He always knew how to make you laugh, and he was always there for you when you needed him. Ty has incredible heart and a tremendous work ethic. I have looked up to him for as long as I’ve known him, he was a huge part of all our lives. I am a better person today for having been friends with Tyrell Thompson.”

Thompson was class beyond class, a true gentleman and a scholar. In Zach Spiker’s first year as head coach at Army (2009-10), Thompson’s senior season, the cadet went out of his way to explain West Point’s secretive jargon to an outsider like Spiker, an Ithaca grad who had served as an assistant at Cornell before signing on at West Point.

“One of those nights he took it upon himself to educate me on how the corps is broken down,” Spiker told the Times Herald-Record. “He made me a flow chart that I still have with me. He autographed it down at the bottom. It was kind of an inside joke at my press conference. I’ve learned all I need to know from Ty Thompson as to how things are run at West Point.”

“He had a terrific personality,” Spiker added. “He had a terrific outlook on things, on life, on the academy.”

That outlook on life was infectious, as former Kennedy teammate Matt Maher recalled.

“Tyrell was a superstar; everybody knew that,” said Maher, one of many who considered Thompson the best friend he ever had. “He had more pure talent than any basketball player I had ever played with, but that wasn’t what made him great. Tyrell’s true gift was his ability to make everyone around him better. Tyrell was always the leader.

“Off the court, Tyrell was an unbelievable friend,” Maher said of the prankster, who spread infectious laughter and could make anybody cackle. “In my eyes, Tyrell was the epitome of success, someone I looked up to so much, and I wanted to seek his advice whenever I struggled.” His words were always laced with encouragement, as he sought to lift the spirits of those who knew him. Tyrell Thompson would do anything for a friend in need.

“I was blessed to have been invited to his graduation ceremony at West Point where I sat next to Coach (Tom) Nelligan and we watched him complete his journey,” said Maher, who went on to Fairleigh Dickinson University as a baseball star. “I remember giving him a hug in his full uniform, and the smile he had on his face was as if the last four years were no big deal: Practices, boot camps, training, and any other obstacles that most people would complain and mope about; Tyrell wouldn’t. He loved life so much, and no matter what situation he was dealt, he couldn’t do anything but smile. My heart absolutely breaks for his family and his fiancé Michelle. But in his passing, Tyrell leaves with us memories that can never be forgotten. He leaves the legacy of man who has exceeded every expectation that was ever set of him.”

Former JFK Coach Nelligan had high expectations, which Thompson met and exceeded, helping Kennedy to its lone state title and the most storied three-year run in history, prior to being named to the Section 1 Class B All-Decade Team (Journal News). The two remained in touch throughout the years and Nelligan, a tough, tough man who broke down several times during our interview, was moved by their relationship.

“I was prouder than a peacock to have been there at West Point for his graduation ceremony with Matty Maher alongside me and President Obama in attendance as the keynote speaker,” Nelligan said. “He was like one of my own, like family. The world has lost a sweetheart, a young man that could light up any room with his charm. He grew into the young man that every mother and father prays for… honorable, patriotic with a quite toughness and confidence.”

Maher and Nelligan both concluded by saying; “He was a true hero, in every sense of the word.”

Nothing more need be said. R.I.P. T-Byrd!


There will be a memorial service at the William Hogan Funeral Home at 135 Main Street, Highland Falls, NY 10928 on Tuesday, Sept 4th 2012 between 5-8pm for viewing. On Sept 5th 2012 @ 1:30 pm funeral services will commence at West Point Old Cadet Chapel located on the premises of the United States Military Academy. Burial will be on Sept 6, 2012 @ Arlington National Cemetery located in Arlington, VA. 



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