Basketball’s history is riddled with legendary partnerships: Shaq and Kobe, Jordan and Pippen, Steph and Klay- the list could go on. No matter who else was on the floor, these pairings always stood out.
On this year’s talented Mercer women’s basketball team, two players stood above the rest: Seniors KeKe Calloway and Amanda Thompson.
And that’s not just an opinion. The Southern Conference coaches named Thompson their player of the year, while Calloway was given the same recognition by conference media. The duo started every game for the Bears in another historic season, leading the team to a second straight conference title and NCAA tournament berth. I sat down with them to find out a little bit about their basketball careers and their success at Mercer.
How long have you been playing basketball?
Calloway: “I started playing competitively when I was five years old, but I remember having a Fisher-Price goal when I was two.”
Thompson: “My dad was a coach, so I grew up in the gym. Competitively, the youngest we could be to play was six.”
When did you realize you wanted to continue playing basketball?
Calloway: “Probably around eighth grade, but for a long time before that, I wanted to be a professional skateboarder.”
Thompson: “For me, it was like seventh or eighth grade. I was still playing everything, but it was between golf and basketball.”
What made you want to come to Mercer?
Calloway: “For me, it was the family aspect. They had a young core, so I felt like that was key for me to come in and at least compete to be able to play.”
Thompson: “It was mainly the engineering school. It was a mid-major level, which was where I felt like I could play basketball, and there was a great engineering school.”
What’s one lesson you’ve learned in your four years playing here?
Calloway: “Just to continue to work hard for what you want regardless of how things may be going, and always seeing the brighter side of things no matter how you may feel.”
Thompson: “For me, it’s taking things one step at a time. I like to plan and look ahead at stuff, but it’s so important in basketball to focus on one game, one practice at a time. I just try to stay in the moment.”
What’s it like being able to play in front of your families? (Calloway is from Forsyth, Georgia, 20 minutes north of Mercer and Thompson is from Hayesville, North Carolina, just an hour from conference opponent Western Carolina.)
Calloway: “I’m a big family person, so to see them in the stands at almost every home game is a big blessing. Not too many people get that opportunity- we have some international students who haven’t seen their parents this year, so to be able to have that blessing is key.”
Thompson: “Even our road games aren’t that far from home, so my family has been coming a lot. I’m from a small hometown, so to go play college basketball and have our team be successful has been incredible for the town. Knowing that it means that much to them is pretty special.”
What’s the highlight of your career so far?
Calloway: “Last year, winning the first conference tournament. We had been there two times before then and we came up short both times, so to finally win it last year was a special moment.”
Thompson: “This year was great, but last year winning it with the group we’d been with for so long and lost it with twice was awesome.”
What makes this year’s team so special?
Calloway: “I think our relationships on and off the court. Everyone gets along well, no jealousy or anything like that. We have a lot of freshmen, but we’ve all gelled together really well.”
Thompson: “We’ve been a very balanced team this year. Different people have stepped up at different times, which is cool to see because that doesn’t happen on every team. Anybody on any given night can be the leading scorer.”
Do you have any professional players you compare yourself to?
Calloway: “I’m Baby Dame, (Portland Trail Blazers guard) Damian Lillard. That’s my favorite player.”
Thompson: “No, I don’t really have anyone-”
Calloway: “She’s like Charles Barkley.” (both laugh)
What do all the individual awards mean to you?
Calloway: “You can’t just downplay it, it has to mean something. Obviously it’s special, but the team awards are what makes the individual awards possible. Winning the conference, getting to cut the nets down and going back to the NCAA tournament is the most special.”
Thompson: “It’s evidence of team success. Anytime somebody on the team gets recognition it’s exciting, whether that’s me or KeKe or anyone. And obviously getting to see my family getting excited (about the awards) has been fun.”
What do you think your legacy will be?
Calloway: “I just hope that we leave a legacy of hard work. We’ve all worked hard to get to this point, and I hope we’ve touched the lives of the players that come after us. Hopefully they strive to do even greater things.”
Thompson: “I would agree with that. I don’t think anybody thought we were going to do what we’ve done, especially this season. It proves that if you work hard every day, you can have success.”