Warner Pacific University’s Kaleb Tompkins, left, and Wesleyan University’s Ava Tompkins, right. (Courtesy Photos | Cortney White and Steve McLaughlin Photography)

Warner Pacific University’s Kaleb Tompkins, left, and Wesleyan University’s Ava Tompkins, right. (Courtesy Photos | Cortney White and Steve McLaughlin Photography)

Persistence pays off for Tompkins cousins on the hardwood

Warner Pacific, Wesleyan off to strong starts

Cousins Kaleb and Ava Tompkins are just two of the fewer than five Juneauites currently playing college basketball.

This season, the former Juneau hoops standouts — Kaleb at Warner Pacific University in Portland, Oregon, and Ava Tompkins at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut — have found a role on winning teams.

In his first two seasons playing for Warner Pacific, Kaleb struggled to find a spot in the Knights’ rotation, averaging just five minutes per game as a sophomore. But after redshirting what would’ve been his junior year, Kaleb has thrived. Kaleb, a member of the state-championship-winning Juneau-Douglas High School team n 2016, scored a career-high 15 points on Dec. 6 in the Knights’ loss to College of Idaho in Caldwell, Idaho. The former Crimson Bear caught fire from 3-point range, making 5 of 6 from behind the arc.

Kaleb scored 12 points the following day in a win over Eastern Oregon University and 14 points on Tuesday in another win over Multnomah University. As of Thursday, Warner Pacific (6-5, 2-1 CCC) is third in the Cascade Collegiate Conference.

“I had not the best couple seasons when I got here but just sticking through it and keeping your head even-keel, that’s a big part of getting better every day,” Kaleb said.

Juneau-Douglas’ Kaleb Tompkins passes under pressure against Sitka’s Branden Case, center, and Trevan Coleman at JDHS in February 2016. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Juneau-Douglas’ Kaleb Tompkins passes under pressure against Sitka’s Branden Case, center, and Trevan Coleman at JDHS in February 2016. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Ava, 21, is also making the most of her time on the court this season, averaging four assists and six rebounds for the Knights (7-2, 0-0 NESCAC).

The cousins pointed to their deeply rooted connection to basketball as one of their reasons for success.

“Our whole family has been a big basketball family since before we were around. My dad (Guy), as well as his brothers, all played. My dad played in college. So we were just always raised around it,” Ava said.

Kaleb echoed his cousin’s thoughts.

“We grew up playing basketball at a young age,” Kaleb said. “We both love it a lot, we’re both competitors and I think playing at an early age and just having a love for the game and being able to play with our cousins and stuff like that is a big part of it.”

College basketball is dramatically different from high school basketball, they said, and it took some time adjusting. The cousins played ample minutes in high school, Ava at Thunder Mountain and Kaleb at JDHS, but found themselves bench-ridden when starting in college.

“In your first year, you can’t give up,” Ava said. “My freshman year, I didn’t really play at all, saw very few minutes and now, I’m a senior captain and have been starting for three years.”

“The first year is going to be brutal no matter how good you think you are coming out of high school,” she added. “For a lot of us, we never sat on the bench in high school and so college is really just about learning how to be a part of a team and what you can do when you’re not necessarily playing.”

Thunder Mountain’s Ava Tompkins looks for dribbling space at Thunder Mountain High School in January 2014. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Thunder Mountain’s Ava Tompkins looks for dribbling space at Thunder Mountain High School in January 2014. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Kaleb, 22, said family and peer support help him get through the times when he wasn’t playing so much.

“Just having people surrounding me, giving me positive attitudes, telling me to stick with it, that was definitely a big part for me. Just keeping my head in that right mind frame,” Kaleb said.

There’s still plenty of basketball left this season for each cousin.

Wesleyan is off for the rest of the month but will play 10 games in January and five in February. Warner Pacific plays two more games this week before calling it quits for 2019. They pick up the 2020 half of the schedule starting Jan. 3 and suit up 18 more times in the regular season.


• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or nainsworth@juneauempire.com.