By Jordan Ingram
The clock hasn’t hit midnight yet.
With the NBA Preseason underway, Sacramento Kings rookie forward/center Jason Thompson, like Cinderella, realizes he has a lot to prove.
For the lottery pick, a guaranteed contract doesn’t mean guaranteed playing time.
“I’m past that,” Thompson said about being the Kings 12th pick. “It’ll be something that I’ll always be able to say and remember but it’s time to move on. Now I got a new coach and a new team so I have to start fresh.”
The former Rider University star’s growth will mirror the Kings’ rebuilding process- filled with peaks and valleys. In the NBA Summer League, the 6-foot-11 Thompson proved that he belonged in the pro’s by averaging 19 points and eight rebounds. Thompson’s says that his strong performances confirmed that he was in the right situation.
“It gave me a lot of confidence because in the practices I was playing real well and within a couple games the coaches were running plays for me,” said Thompson. “I hit two buzzer-beaters during that stretch and though we finished 3-2, I thought we could’ve won even more games.”
In the Mount Laurel, N.J. native’s first preseason game, he was overshadowed by the dominant 13-point, two block debut of Portland Trail Blazers big man Greg Oden.
Though Thompson struggled with 2-for-8 shooting and six fouls, he assures fans that his best is yet to come. Gaining daily advice from former NBA star and current Kings assistant coach Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Thompson feels he can only get better.
“I’ve been learning a lot from the veteran guys out here and doing a lot of agility drills…overall my game’s got stronger all over,” said Thompson. “[Abdur-Rahim] has had success in the league so I’m going to trying to learn as much as I can in the fastest time so I can get on the court.”
Thompson’s development will be a key factor toward second-year Kings head coach Reggie Theus making strides in the Western Conference. With the Golden State Warriors missing the playoffs with 48 wins, Thompson understands that competition will come at a premium.
“It’s tough and it makes us work even harder with teams out there like the Lakers, Mavs, and Phoenix Suns,” said Thompson. The competition is getting even better in the Eastern Conference so I’m happy that our team’s headed in the right direction instead of downward.”
The versatile big man isn’t a stranger to coming out of nowhere. A former 5-foot-11 guard, Thompson grew to 6-foot-8 while attending Lenape High School where he became a multiple all-South Jersey performer. Playing alongside two fellow D-I signees, younger brother Ryan Thompson (Rider) and Stanley Greene (Howard), the pair led Lenape it’s first state championship.
Jason was recruited under the radar heading to Rider and turned a middle-of-the-pack mid-major program into a power in the MAAC. In his senior year, Thompson led the Broncs to the MAAC Championship Game against Siena. Rider head coach Tommy Dempsey feels that NBA experts shouldn’t underestimate Thompson’s motivation to be the best.
“I think what people failed to recognize was how competitive and driven he was, Dempsey said during the NBA Draft. “Over the years he put on some weight, grew a couple inches, competed everyday, and now he’s blossomed into a great player.”
Off the court, Thompson is starting his life over from scratch as well. For the first time in his 22-year-old life, Thompson will be a coast away from his family. Having moved into an apartment in the Sacramento area, he’s taken steps toward getting used to living consistently on his own.
Thompson admits that while becoming a grown man is a process, he’s well up to the challenge.
“The world is small and I have a lot of family out here too so I’m not all that worried about that,” Thompson said about being away from his immediate family. “I’m a people person so I’m going to meet new people in California. I feel comfortable out here and I haven’t even been out in Sacramento that long so it must be a good sign.”
The outgoing Thompson will be living in California but will still have a local state of mind. Thompson said that he’s eagerly awaiting when the Kings have road games against the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, and New York Knicks.
During the season he also plans to keep in constant contact with his family, especially Ryan who’ll be entering his junior season at Rider. The 6-foot-7 forward/ guard was an All-MAAC selection after averaging 16 points and seven rebounds. Highly touted like his older brother, Jason thinks his brother has at least an outside chance to join him in the NBA.
“Easier said than done but he definitely has the talent,” said Thompson. “Obviously it’s going to be a little easier for him because he has people like myself around that can give him advice about the process. He definitely has a good shot of going to the NBA.”
When Thompson returns to the Philly/ New Jersey area, he also has plans to give back to the youth. For the former long shot, helping out the next NBA Draft Pick is essential.
“I’m going to come back and do some Jason Thompson camps in the area where kids can work on their game as well as putting money in the community,” Thompson said. “I’m also interested in starting my own summer league or AAU team like Dajuan Wagner. Networking is important, so I’m trying to get my name out there where I grew up and then look to start expanding.”