St. Pauls boys basketball coach Corey Thompson instructs the Bulldogs in a timeout during a Jan. 10, 2023 game against Midway in St. Pauls. Thompson was named the new head coach at Winston-Salem State University, his alma mater, the school announced Tuesday.
                                 Chris Stiles | The Robesonian

St. Pauls boys basketball coach Corey Thompson instructs the Bulldogs in a timeout during a Jan. 10, 2023 game against Midway in St. Pauls. Thompson was named the new head coach at Winston-Salem State University, his alma mater, the school announced Tuesday.

Chris Stiles | The Robesonian

WINSTON-SALEM — When Corey Thompson took the boys basketball head coaching job at St. Pauls in 2016, the Lumberton native returned to his roots.

In taking a big step and a next-level opportunity, he’s doing so again in a different way.

Thompson was named the men’s basketball head coach at Winston-Salem State Tuesday, taking over the program he played for from 1998-2002. He is the first former Rams player to lead the program.

A news conference was held Tuesday afternoon in Winston-Salem to introduce Thompson.

“It’s been a lot of sleepless nights, pinching myself and saying ‘is this actually real,’ are we going back home?” Thompson said at the announcement. “And I’m so delighted to be the new men’s basketball coach. It’s a great day to be a Ram.”

WSSU, a historically-Black university, competes in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association in NCAA Division II. The Rams are a frequent nonconference opponent of UNC Pembroke.

Thompson played at at Winston-Salem State from 1998-2002. He met his wife, Kesi, during his time as a student at the school.

“This is very welcoming, especially being a former student-athlete here and an alum, and to come back home is very fulfilling for me,” Thompson said. “Just to be back in this community, I am extremely happy.”

“That’s what I was looking for, that person that will continue to graduate champions at WSSU,” Etienne Thomas, the school’s athletic director, said at Tuesday’s announcement. “A partner, someone who can see beyond men’s basketball and see the institution, the academy of who we are. Someone who can appreciate the legacy and history here. We had many candidates in the pool, many he had a story to tell, but you know it when you hear it, you know it when you see it.”

Thompson replaces Cleo Hill Jr., who had coached the Rams since 2018 before he was named head coach at Division-I Maryland Eastern Shore last month. Hill led WSSU to two CIAA championships.

A Lumberton High School alumnus, Thompson compiling a 139-72 overall record at St. Pauls with a 79-29 mark in conference play. The Bulldogs have won three conference championships during his tenure and reached the state playoffs every year, including six second-round appearances, two third-round berths and a run to the fourth round in 2022.

Last season, St. Pauls was 13-15 overall and 4-6 in the Southeastern Athletic Conference, the first time a Thompson-led Bulldogs team has had a losing record either overall or in conference play; nonetheless, St. Pauls advanced to the Southeastern tournament championship, which it lost to top-seeded West Bladen in overtime, and reached the first round of the 2A state playoffs.

Thompson made a point during Tuesday’s news conference to thank his St. Pauls co-workers and administration for their support.

He previously served as an assistant coach at UNC Pembroke for five seasons and at Fayetteville State for three seasons. Thompson played at Winston-Salem State from 1998-2002.

Sports editor Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected]. You can follow him on X/Twitter at @StilesOnSports.