Damien Paulson and David Thompson insist they weren’t wearing Minnesota Duluth sweatshirts and singing the Bulldogs’ fight song when they discussed college plans with their sons.
Instead, the UMD basketball alums allowed their kids to make up their own minds when it came time to choose a university.
But Noah Paulson and Mattie Thompson, both Duluth East seniors, ended up making the same decisions as their fathers to play basketball at UMD. They officially signed their letters of intent Wednesday at East High School.
“(Damien) and I always had this collective idea, ‘Wouldn’t it be great, a dream, if our kids got to keep playing together at the next level? And if they played for UMD, it would be pretty special,’ ” said David Thompson, who starred for the Bulldogs from 1984-88. “Fortunately, that worked out.
“But I wanted Mattie to make his own decision. He’s a thoughtful kid and wanted to do what was best for himself and those around him. We are very fortunate to have this amazing program right here in our backyard. Playing for UMD was a dream for me, and I hope it’s the same for Mattie.”
Mattie Thompson averaged 18.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game as a junior for the Greyhounds, while the 6-foot-9 Noah Paulson averaged a double-double with 15.8 points and 10.9 rebounds a game.
“I’m really excited for them,” said East coach Rhett McDonald, another UMD alum. “They are great kids, come from great stock and great families. They have spent a lot of time playing this game that they love and were very goal-oriented about playing college basketball. It seems like a perfect marriage.”
Though his family took him and his older brothers to watch a few UMD games when he was younger, Mattie Thompson says he didn’t start thinking about following in his father’s footsteps until colleges began reaching out to him.
“UMD was one of those colleges that reached out to me early on, and that’s when I started thinking about it,” he said.
Thompson and Paulson verbally committed a week apart from each other earlier this year, but both say they made their choice individually from the other.
“It’s great that Noah is going there; it’s another familiar face to be a part of my journey,” Thompson said. “We weren’t specifically targeting UMD, we both just wanted what was best for us.”
Noah Paulson said: “We said it would be cool to play together, but we kept it open to make individual choices.”
Still, there was little doubt where Paulson would go if given the opportunity. Besides Damien playing basketball for the Bulldogs from 1991-95, his future wife, Jodi Ierino, did likewise from 1992-96.
“It’s in the blood,” Noah said. “When I was younger I always wanted to go to UMD, but then in high school I was open to other schools. But in the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to go there.”
His father, who is entering his fourth season as a Duluth East basketball assistant after David Thompson spent three years in the chair, wasn’t going to dissuade him.
“Honestly, we did our best to let him make the call,” the elder Paulson said. “Selfishly, to have him in town and be able to watch him is a plus, but we did try to take a back seat and let him explore his options and be his own person.”
UMD went 22-9 last season in Justin Wieck’s second season as coach. Both East players wanted to be a part of the Bulldogs’ big plans in the future.
“They have a young roster and good players so I think they are going toward something special,” the younger Thompson said.
Though COVID-19 restrictions will delay the start of the season, McDonald is excited to coach his star players one more season and then be able to continue watching them in college.
“We’re lucky we get to watch these kids for, potentially, the next five years,” he said.
Included among Northland athletes signing letters of intent Wednesday at Division II universities or above: Duluth Marshall basketball player Gianna Kneepkens (Division I Utah); Duluth Marshall soccer midfielder Emilia McGiffert (Division I Eastern Michigan) and teammate Baamlak Haugen (Minnesota Duluth); Greenway hockey player Claire Vekich (Division I Bemidji State); former Greenway hockey player Donte Lawson (Bemidji State); Hermantown basketball player Elly Schmitz (Division II Sioux Falls); Superior softball player Chesie McLaughlin (Division II Minot State) along with swimming classmates Kaelyn DeRoche (Division II Southwest Minnesota State) and Molly Lenmark (Division II Minnesota State-Moorhead); and Grand Rapids’ Claire Walsh, who will row at the University of Oklahoma.