Commentary

Thompson looking for more at Wazzu

Washington State sophomore aims to add strength to scoring touch

Originally Published: April 27, 2010
By Diamond Leung | ESPN.com

A news conference wasn't necessary for soft-spoken Klay Thompson to declare his intentions for next year. Rather fittingly, Washington State's sophomore star instead spit out a series of brief statements to address his future.

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Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesAfter a scorching start, Washington State and Klay Thompson struggled once Pac-10 play began, finishing last in the league.

"He brought it up right away," Cougars coach Ken Bone said of their postseason individual meeting. "I asked him what he felt like he needed to work on. First thing that came out of his mouth was, 'I have to get stronger.'"

And it wasn't just talk for Thompson. During the weeks when NBA prospects across the nation pondered their futures, the 6-foot-6, 200-pound shooting guard was busy pushing himself in the school's weight room -- at times to the limit.

"He's worked so hard he's been heading over to the bucket," Bone said. "I've seen it twice now."

Said Thompson of the NBA: "I'm in no rush to get there. I'm going to wait for my time and when I'm at my best. I think I can still prove a lot of things."

Expectations remain high for Thompson following a year in which he went into December leading the nation in scoring and finished on the All-Pac-10 first team, averaging 19.6 points per game. He hung 43 points on San Diego in the Great Alaska Shootout.

But a midseason shooting slump that coincided with the start of Pac-10 play contributed to Wazzu finishing last in the conference after a 10-2 start, leaving him feeling dissatisfied by season's end. And if dips in his shooting percentages didn't already serve to answer the question on whether or not he would turn pro, comments on the radio did.

They came from his father, former No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Mychal Thompson, who in a February interview with a local station wondered aloud, "Who would want him anyway?"

Mychal, who is around the NBA on a daily basis as a Lakers radio color commentator and talk show host for 710 ESPN in Los Angeles, said this week that scouts still love his son and that there is "no question" Klay is a future pro because of his shooting ability.

"Now that he went through it once, he won't go through it again," Mychal said. "He'll work his way through it. That's what real players do. Kobe [Bryant], if he has a bad game or a bad week, he knows he's going to work out of it.

"Klay would hang his head too much. I told him, 'Never hang your head.' Never let your opponents see that. If you're 0-for-20, you'll be 1-for-21 after the next shot."

The numbers Mychal mentioned were not merely hyperbole. During one particularly brutal stretch over the course of three late-February games, Klay missed 24 consecutive field goal attempts.

"I didn't care how I was playing. It was just tough when we were losing," he said. "We could have played with those teams. We had talent. This year is real important to rebound. We want to prove we're not pretenders and we can do some damage.

"Trying to play to expectations, that can kill their game and hurt your team. You have to play for yourself and your school and not anyone else."

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Jason O. Watson/US PresswireThompson's shooting took a dip toward the latter half of the season as the Cougars lost 10 of their final 12 games.

Explanations as to why the scuffling snowballed on Thompson involve a variety of factors, as he played in a faster-paced offense under first-year coach Bone after Tony Bennett left for Virginia.

Bennett's offense is one predicated on patience, and it primarily enabled Thompson to come off screens to get off quality shots. The mechanics of that shot remained intact this past year, but Bone also saw that it was rushed at times against Pac-10 opponents who knew Thompson's reputation and ran multiple defenders at him with success.

"What culminated out of that was he probably put a little extra pressure on himself to perform on a really high level," Bone said.

Thompson continued his transition as he tries to develop into a multi-dimensional scorer, one that can attack the rim, draw contact, post up and rebound. Consider that as a freshman Thompson earned only 31 free throw attempts. This past year, he didn't always settle for the jump shot and went to the line 166 times.

"We are trying to make him into a scorer," Bone said.

If Thompson is to evolve, he knows he has to get his body stronger and his relatively thin frame thicker. He's been lifting weights six days a week, and Washington State also has a nutritionist working to make sure he eats right.

Additionally, Thompson is scheduled to make trips back to his native Los Angeles, where he can play pickup alongside pros and some summer league games with other college players.

And he's enrolling in summer school. Last summer was spent with Team USA's Under-19 team that won gold in New Zealand, and while that experience was valuable, it will help that Thompson can work on chemistry with the rest of the Cougars in Pullman after a 16-15 season.

"What will help Klay more than anything else is when we get better depth and teams can't focus on him so much," Bone said. "He's an easy target to defend until we do that."

Alongside returning freshman point guard Reggie Moore, who averaged 12.7 points per game last season, the Cougars will go into next season with one of the conference's top backcourts. Thompson will also be looked upon to be a leader on a team that is without a senior.

Vocal leadership won't come naturally, of course. While Mychal has a post-NBA career revolving around the gift of gab -- he even recites Lakers-oriented poems over the radio -- he said it was from his wife, Julie, that Klay got his understated personality.

Even that has shown signs of evolution.

"I've heard him be a little more vocal," Bone said. "He has done that this spring. He doesn't say a whole lot, but I've heard him a few times encouraging other guys. I've never seen that in the past."

Diamond Leung covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at diamond83@gmail.com.