Remembering Rider’s drafted ballers

By Shaun Chornobroff

The names Stella Johnson and Jason Thompson will be remembered for a long time by Rider University students that had the opportunity to witness their abilities in person.

Stella Johnson had an illustrious career at Rider in which she became the first All-American in the history of the Rider women’s basketball program and led the nation in scoring her senior year.

Stella Johnson was eventually drafted 29th overall in the 2019 WNBA Draft to the Phoenix Mercury. She had an eventful rookie season that saw her become a member of three teams, before settling into a role with the Washington Mystics. On Aug. 19, Johnson flashed her potential, draining six three-pointers in a Mystics victory, a league record for a rookie.

Thompson was a three-time all-conference selection during his time in Lawrenceville and the 2008 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year. In his senior season, Thompson had a videogame-esque stat line of 20.4 points per game, 12.1 rebounds per game, 2.7 blocks per game and 1.2 steals per game.

This concluded with Jason Thompson being selected 12th overall by the Sacramento Kings in the 2008 NBA Draft. Thompson enjoyed an eight-year NBA career and currently plays overseas, but he is still remembered fondly within Rider athletics and even the practice gym the men’s basketball team uses that bears his name.

But the history doesn’t just end there. In fact, two more players who have attended Rider University have been drafted into the professional ranks.

60 years before Thompson heard his name called on draft night, Herb Krautblatt Kay, one of the greatest men’s basketball players to ever attend the school, received the same honor.

In 1945, Kay set a school record for points in a season with 367. Kay’s scoring exploits proved to help on the court as he was an integral part of the Rider team that went 15-6 in the 1947-48 season, which was the program’s best finish in 17 years.

That season was the one that proved Kay’s talent.

In a blowout victory over Wilkes College, Kay suffered an injury that had the southpaw leader limping through a period of their schedule and caused the Roughriders to lose a game or two that they previously expected to win. However, the team did not completely falter as Kay’s co-star, and the second part of “the state’s top one-two scoring punch,” Hesh Cohen aided a hurt Kay until his return to form.

Kay eventually went back to his old form, even having a 30-point performance later in that season and was named an All-American.

“Herb was a graceful, left-handed shooter who possessed great leaping ability, if he would have played today, he’d still be an All-American,” said Kay’s former coach Tom Leyden in 1992.

Kay’s college performance led to him being selected in the sixth round of the 1948 Basketball Association of America (BAA) Draft by the Baltimore Bullets. Kay’s stint in the BAA only lasted one season in which he appeared in 10 games for the Bullets before they exited in the playoffs after falling to the New York Knicks.

Twenty years after Kay got drafted another, Rider graduate had their name called — Greg Cisson.

Cisson was a role player for his first two seasons at Rider. Then, as he was coming into his own, his junior season ended early due to ineligibility. But in his final season, Cisson, who was already an elite rebounder, became a dominant all-around force.

In 24 games in the 1968 season, Cisson was a menace averaging 21.1 points and 13.3 points per game.

This gave Cisson recognition and caused him to be drafted by the local Philadelphia 76ers in the 10th round of the 1968 NBA Draft.

Five days later the 6-foot-5 center was selected in the later rounds of the competing American Basketball Association draft by the Indiana Pacers.

Cisson said after both drafts that he was “naturally quite surprised to be selected by both [Indiana] and Philadelphia.”

Cisson never suited up for the 76ers or the Pacers, instead spending his professional career in the Eastern Pennsylvania Basketball Association or the Eastern Basketball Association, playing for the Trenton Colonials, Wilkes-Barre Barons and the Garden State Colonials.

The names of Thompson and Krautblatt have already been recognized by the Athletic Department with their inclusion in the Hall of Fame, with Johnson sure to follow. Cisson has not been lucky enough to receive this award, but regardless of if he gets this recognition, Thompson, Johnson, Krautblatt and Cisson all deserve to be remembered for the recognition they brought to Rider.

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