How Hutchinson native went from hospital to helping Barton win first juco title

When Myles Thompson was in a hospital bed less than two years ago, he genuinely didn’t know if his college basketball career was over.

One day, the 6-foot-7 Hutchinson native was the typical college athlete: big, strong, healthy. And then out of nowhere, a blood infection in his lower right leg hospitalized Thompson for nearly three weeks and set off a chain of medical issues that sidelined him for five straight months.

His basketball future once uncertain, Thompson clung to that memory this past Saturday when he hoisted the NJCAA Division I national championship, a title he helped win for Barton Community College with 27 points and 13 rebounds in an 88-73 win over Triton (Ill.) College and in a return to his hometown at Hutchinson Sports Arena.

“I couldn’t even picture this when I was in the hospital,” Thompson said. “It makes you realize what a blessing all of this is and how much time you put in to come back and how far I’ve really come. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this. It’s unbelievable.”

Not only was Thompson able to return to the court, overcoming a rash of health issues during a redshirt year, he came back even better than he was before and was an instrumental part of Barton’s first national championship.

The storybook ending even played out on the very court and in the very tournament Thompson grew up idolizing.

“I don’t think there is a better story out there,” Barton coach Jeremy Coombs said. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Myles Thompson was hospitalized for nearly three weeks in 2022 with a blood infection in his right lower leg. He was forced to redshirt the season, then returned to action to help lead Barton to the NJCAA national title in 2024.
Myles Thompson was hospitalized for nearly three weeks in 2022 with a blood infection in his right lower leg. He was forced to redshirt the season, then returned to action to help lead Barton to the NJCAA national title in 2024.

‘No one seemed to know what was going on’

Myles Thompson was a kid who always had a large and sturdy build, never one to succumb to injuries or illnesses.

So it was a noteworthy experience for the family when Myles felt like he needed to see a doctor six weeks before the start of his sophomore season at Barton. He had averaged 7.1 points and 5.5 rebounds as a freshman and after a summer of improvement, Myles expected to help the team even more in his second year in Great Bend.

He was given medication for a cough and fever, which briefly worked, but it was only a week later when the symptoms returned, then his right ankle began bothering him and he started to experience rigors, shaking chills he later learned was his body’s reaction to the infection.

The situation worsened so much that his father, Joel, made the hour-long drive to Great Bend to return his son to Hutchinson and take him to the emergency room. Doctors struggled to pinpoint the exact kind of infection and less than 48 hours later, Myles was being transported from Hutchinson to Wichita in an ambulance.

“I think the scariest thing was that the doctors didn’t even know what happened,” Myles said. “You’re just thinking, ‘Man, what is going on?’ No one seemed to know what was going on.”

For the next 20 days, Myles was hospitalized in Wichita as doctors tried different ways to drain the infection from his leg. Ultimately, surgery was required.

His season was over before it even began. Doctors couldn’t guarantee a return to the court until they saw how his foot reacted to the surgery.

“He had worked so hard all summer and then, all of a sudden, he had the rug pulled out from underneath him,” Joel said. “It was traumatic to his body, but it was also traumatic mentally.”

The surgery was a success and Myles returned home to Hutchinson, where he required daily antibiotics administered to him through a PICC line for six weeks. He tried to return to school in Great Bend, but his immune system was still compromised and he contracted clostridium difficile (C. Diff), which left him bedridden for three more weeks.

Myles lost around 20 pounds through the whole ordeal. A gym rat his whole life, he became frustrated by his situation, unable to attend his nightly shooting sessions alone in the gym and stuck in bed for days at a time.

“Nobody really knew what exactly was going on and I think we all were kind of in the unknown,” Barton coach Jeremy Coombs said. “You want to reach out and help, but you don’t know how or what to do.”

Hutchinson native Myles Thompson returned from a severe injury scare to be a crucial piece for Barton’s NJCAA national championship run this season.
Hutchinson native Myles Thompson returned from a severe injury scare to be a crucial piece for Barton’s NJCAA national championship run this season.

‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’

Thanks to diligent work in physical therapy, the support of his parents, Joel and Abby, and a daily regimen of four different antibiotics, Myles eventually recovered enough to begin practicing with the team last February — after being sidelined for five straight months.

But in those early days, he was a shell of himself, his body still frail from so many months of inactivity.

“I honestly had no idea,” Myles said, “what I would be good at again.”

He rode the exercise bike religiously to try to restore his stamina. He did workouts tailored to strengthen his ankle, which still has a scar to remind him of his surgery. It took him a while to regain confidence in planting and cutting on his right ankle, but once he had it, he then progressed to explosion drills.

Following the end of the 2022-23 school year, Myles returned home and made Hutchinson High headquarters for his comeback with the blessing of his high school coach, Bryan Miller. He woke up early to work out with the high school players in the morning, then returned later in the afternoon or evening to lift weights and shoot shots on his own.

“We saw his resilience, his character and his toughness every day,” Miller said. “I think he gets most of that from his parents who pumped that into him his entire life and helped bring him through that moment. And he needed that because that moment was pretty dark for him for a while.”

The physical work it required to come back was grueling, but as a three-sport athlete growing up, Myles was accustomed to hard work.

Overcoming the mental anguish from an injury, however, was new. He leaned on his Christian faith, but also the same approach he took to everything in the realm of sports.

“I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder and a feeling like I’ve been a little overlooked,” Myles said. “I know I don’t have all of the things that sometimes coaches want. I’m not the most athletic. I’m not the fastest. But I know I can hang with anybody.

“So I would tell myself that there are probably a good amount of people out there who don’t think I can come back from this. They probably think I’m done. The doubt has always fueled me.”

When Myles returned to Great Bend this past fall, Barton coach Jeremy Coombs noticed a difference.

This wasn’t the 6-foot-7 big man he recruited out of Hutchinson. Myles seemed a bit quicker off the bounce, a bit stronger around the basket with a bit more stamina running up and down the court.

It was the type of progression a juco coach hopes for in a typical situation with a player, not one who was coming off such severe medical issues.

“Not a lot of kids would have battled back from what Myles did,” Coombs said. “In our program, we talk all the time about, ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.’ At the end of the day, it made him stronger. He saw how quickly the game of basketball and everything can be taken away from you, so I think it gave him a tremendous drive and a sense of appreciation for things.”

It was delayed a year, but Myles ended up with that breakout season he planned this season at Barton. He started all 37 games for the eventual national champions, averaging 14.0 points and 6.7 rebounds.

He saved his best for last, averaging 20.3 points in Barton’s final six postseason games, including a 24-and-9 performance against Hutchinson in the Region VI championship and a 27-and-13 double-double against Triton in the national final.

Pride typically encompasses how a father feels watching their son excel in athletics. Joel Thompson was proud, sure, but that somehow felt inadequate to properly describe how he felt watching his son live out a dream that not long ago seemed out of reach.

“Admiration might be the stronger feeling I have for his journey,” Joel said. “To be knocked back so hard, then to reset yourself and then to come back even better and stronger, not everybody can do that. People didn’t see the hours upon hours he put in just to get back. ‘Grind’ has become a cliche, but he really had to grind to get back to chasing his dream and I just admire that.”

Hutchinson native Myles Thompson led the Barton men’s basketball team to the Region VI championship on Saturday night in Hutchinson.
Hutchinson native Myles Thompson led the Barton men’s basketball team to the Region VI championship on Saturday night in Hutchinson.

‘This really all is a dream come true’

When the Thompson family moved to Hutchinson in 2010, Myles soon became a regular every week in March when the NJCAA national men’s basketball tournament came to Hutchinson Sports Arena.

It didn’t take long for him to become enamored by the hometown Blue Dragons, who were on the rise to become a national power under coach Steve Eck. Myles used to idolize Hutchinson’s star players like Kadeem Allen, Shakur Juiston and Samajae Haynes-Jones.

“I would beg my parents to skip school when the tournament came to town,” Myles said. “I have so many good memories there.”

The sentimental side of Thompson came out once Barton claimed the Region VI championship and locked up the No. 1 overall seed at the NJCAA national tournament.

After spending so many years watching from the stands, Myles became the type of star player he once dreamed of being on the court at Hutchinson Sports Arena.

He scored 20-plus points in four of Barton’s final five games, including a 27-point, 13-rebound masterpiece in the championship game against Triton. The Cougars were also led by Lajae Jones, who was named tournament MVP, as well as Cooper Jackson, Mozae Downing-Rivers, Ring Malith, Keandre Kindell, Brent Moss, Amiri Ndayisaba and Christian Bowen-Webb.

“It’s absolutely crazy to me because you think about all of those great players that you watched and how cool you thought they were,” Myles said. “And now you’re the team out there and you’re the one playing in the championship game. That’s what I always dreamed of doing when I was young and to be able to win is just an unbelievable feeling. It’s hard to wrap your mind around it.”

“He saw all of that play out in his mind before it ever actually happened,” Joel said. “He’s lived it in his mind so many times, he’s already played in those big-time games and made those big-time shots in his head, I think that helped him perform at such a high level.”

From returning from a severe injury to raising his level of play when the stakes were the highest to returning to his hometown to win his program’s first national championship, Myles’ story has all of the makings of a March Madness Cinderella story.

And now he hopes to parlay his March success into a scholarship at a four-year program to continue his basketball career. Regardless of what happens next, to those who have seen his journey unfold every step of the way, this season has meant everything.

“This really all is a dream come true,” Joel said. “He’s living out a dream.”