Former Jackrabbit basketball standout Ellie Thompson has taken her talents overseas, and the trip has been worth it.
Thompson signed a contract with Basket Esch out of the Total League in Luxembourg after graduating from South Dakota State this past spring with honors in advertising, a minor in studio art and a graphic design certificate.
“The season officially started on Sept. 23,” Thompson said. “But we have been practicing and having preseason games since Aug. 22. We only have one game a week, which is a lot different than what I was used to.”
The games are usually on Saturday or Sunday, and Basket Esch currently is 7-4.
Thompson ended her career as a Jackrabbit ranked 29th in career scoring (1,278), seventh in rebounds (774), fourth in offensive rebounds (312), fifth in blocks (118), eighth in blocks per game (0.89) and 11th in field-goal percentage (48.8).
Through the first 11 games with Basket Esch, Thompson has scored an average of 20.1 points, something she never did in college. She’s also averaging 8.6 rebounds a game.
“The biggest difference in playing basketball here compared to SDSU is that I am expected to score a lot more,” Thompson said. “At SDSU we had many scoring threats, so I didn’t have to as much.”
Jackrabbit coach Aaron Johnston isn’t surprised that Thompson is putting up points in Europe at a faster rate than she did with SDSU.
“On her new team she will probably run a completely different style of offense compared to the one we ran here,” Johnston said. “She will also have to play a different role than she played here whether it’s scoring or being a defender.”
Thompson was a three-time second-team All-Summit League selection and was named to the all-tournament team twice, along with being a part of the 2016 Summit League All-Newcomer Team.
Another change she said she noticed right away about European basketball involves the practices.
“Practices are a lot different than college practices,” Thompson said. “They are generally shorter and at night since many of the local players have full-time jobs during the day. Now that the season has started, I have practice three to four times a week, shooting workouts two times a week, and lifting two to three times a week.”
Thompson gets a monthly salary, an apartment that the team provides and a car. She also gets two round-trip flights to the U.S.
Living in Europe is one thing itself, but being able to live abroad while playing the sport you love is a dream come true.
“Living abroad has been amazing so far,” she said. “Luxembourg is such a central country, which makes it very easy to travel to many different places. I have been to France, Germany and Belgium several times, and I have plans to go to Spain, the Netherlands and England in the near future. I have also started a blog to share my travels with my friends and family. “
Thompson said the language barrier isn’t as bad as you would think, but it is still one of the biggest challenges of living in a different country.
“Most people in Luxembourg speak English, but it is usually the fourth language that they learn,” Thompson said. “People in Luxembourg grow up speaking Luxembourgish as their native language. Then in primary school, they begin learning French, then German and then English.
Johnston said moving to a new country would be one of the biggest challenges Thompson would face even before putting on a jersey to play.
“Building relationships and getting past the language barriers will be tough,” Johnston said. “It will definitely take some time to overcome even before she plays for her team.”
Johnston hasn’t been in contact with Thompson since she went overseas but regularly gets updates from his coaches about her.
“I try to give (players) their space and let them grow as a person outside of SDSU,” Johnston said. “But at the end of the day we are still here for them no matter what if they reach out to us.”
Thompson said she has no time timeline for how long she will play overseas.
“As long as I keep loving the game, I will keep playing,” Thompson said. “While I am here I am also doing some freelance advertising and graphic design to keep gaining experience and learning in those respective fields.”
When Thompson came to Johnston about potentially playing in the pros, he sat her down and talked with her about what he has learned from the past Jackrabbit athletes who played overseas.
“I talked with her about choosing the right agent, things to avoid and be careful of,” Johnston said. “I just gave her some things to prepare for the good, the bad and the ugly. (I) told her the experience won’t nearly be the same as it was here, chartering buses to games and playing in Frost Arena or in the WNBA. (I) just wanted to make sure she was aware of everything before she made a decision.”
As for Johnston and the Jackrabbits, they are currently 4-3 and return to action with a game at Chattanooga on Tuesday, Dec. 4, and Thompson said she will monitor their progress all season long.
“I will definitely keep up with the Jacks while I am in Europe,” Thompson said. “I love seeing my former teammates and best friends working hard and having fun. I am forever grateful for my time as a Jack and will never stop rooting for them.”
You can follow along with Ellie Thompson during the basketball season in Luxembourg as she posts in a blog about her European experiences –