Leslie and Thompkins teammates again
The Clippers' 2011 draft picks and best friends come with built-in chemistry
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- Former University of Georgia forward Trey Thompkins was picked 37th overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in last week's 2011 NBA draft, prompting immediate celebration at the Atlanta sports bar where he was watching and the expected flood of calls and text messages to his phone from around the globe.
But shortly after his selection, it was Thompkins who made a call to his college teammate, dunking-dynamo Travis Leslie, with a congratulatory message of his own.
Through the grapevine -- otherwise known as his agent, the always-connected Arn Tellem -- Thompkins heard the Clippers had rated Leslie high up their board and probably were going to select him with their next pick, 47th overall. And so he let him know.
"He called at the 45th pick and he was like, 'I think you might come with me,'" Leslie recounted Monday as the Clippers introduced the two rookies at their practice facility. "And then it happened, and we were on the phone and we were just excited."
The two are more than just college teammates -- Thompkins calls Leslie his best friend. Both hail from the suburbs of Atlanta, and both have long known Clippers 2010 first-rounder Al-Farouq Aminu.
Those connections were indeed part of the reason the Clippers selected the teammates with both of their second-round selections in Thursday's draft. But the main reason was simple: They were, at both picks, the highest-rated players still available.
"We're really happy," Clippers general manager Neil Olshey said Monday, repeating his sentiments from draft night. "Anytime you can walk into a draft room and get two players that you have rated well ahead of where you got them drafted, the value and the ability they have to impact your roster -- it's exciting for us."
Thompkins and Leslie arrived in Los Angeles late Sunday and stepped into the Clippers' facility for the first time Monday morning, where they will spend a lot of their time until they're forced to vacate the premises Friday because of looming NBA lockout restrictions.
It's Leslie's first trip to L.A., while Thompkins trained for the draft in Santa Monica and visited the city for AAU tournaments earlier in his basketball career.
"We're just getting our hands around them right now, and just letting the coaches and assistant coaches work them out," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "They'll be here all week, so we'll get to know each other and have some lunches and some dinners and get them to feel as comfortable as possible with the process."
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They had two workouts scheduled Monday, one in the morning and one in the evening, with doctor visits and media meetings slated to take up the in-between hours. Del Negro hesitated to call it a five-day cram session in anticipation of the lockout taking effect later this week, but he conceded the two rookies are being fed more information than they normally would.
"It was a process that I expected," Thompkins said. "I came in with an open mind, and I'm willing to learn. Everything that they've given me, I've taken in and I've appreciated."
Thompkins, 21, was deemed a potential first-rounder by a number of prognosticators leading up to the draft. It's believed he fell to the early second round primarily based on concerns related to his physical conditioning, as his body-fat percentage was the highest of any prospect at last month's NBA combine in Chicago.
But his offensive skills, with range out to the college 3-point line, are proven. The Clippers are marketing him as a perfect outside complement to star Blake Griffin's inside game at the power forward position.
Leslie, 21, played the small forward position in college but will have to transition to shooting guard in the pros because of his 6-foot-4 frame. He was considered one of the best athletes available in the 2011 draft class and is known as a superb dunker with desirable defensive skills as well.
"They both have pro ability -- Trey has great skill sets, Travis has incredible athleticism," Del Negro said. "So you're always trying to find their pro skill.
"Obviously they have a lot more versatility than what we're talking about, but those are the initial things that jump off the page off of you."