Forward-Center – Sacramento
Copywriter, B. Schumacher | Photographer, H. Hammer | Videographer, C. Wild
From Rider to the NBA: An Uncommon Journey
Getting to the NBA is a common goal for many young athletes, yet it is an uncommon accomplishment. Even if someone is good enough to play Division I college basketball, less than 1% of those players make it to the NBA. A large percentage of that 1% come from big-time college programs like Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Connecticut, and UCLA. In 2013-2014, almost 20 percent of NBA rosters were made up of players from these six programs. When you account for the rest of the players in the major college basketball conferences and players from other countries, there isn’t much room left for guys from the mid-majors. Enter Jason Thompson.
Thompson is one of the few that have made it to the NBA from a mid-major and one of only two players in history to make it from Rider University. He played college ball at Rider University, a small school in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), from 2004-2008. Despite receiving offers to play at several powerhouse programs, Thompson chose to stay close to home.
“I signed my letter of intent before my senior year, so I didn’t have to put pressure on myself,” said Thompson. “I had offers from all the mid-majors and schools like Villanova and UCLA, but the bigger schools wanted me to redshirt or go to prep school. I wanted to play right way, so I stayed close to home. I came off the bench as a freshman. That year we weren’t playing that well, so I ended up in the starting lineup.”
Thompson averaged 9.1points and 7.4 rebounds per game as a freshman. As a junior, he was one of only three players in the country to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. In his senior season, he averaged 20.4 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game.
“I was able to develop every year,” Thompson noted. “At first I was a guy that was doing everything it took to get on the floor, then I became the best player on my team, then the best player in the league, and eventually one of the top players in the country. And the rest is history.”
In the 2008 NBA Draft, Sacramento drafted Thompson with the 12th overall pick. Despite Sacramento being in a rebuilding phase, discussing the possibility of moving the franchise, and having inconsistency at the head coaching position, Thompson has been a steady performer for Sacramento. He has averaged 10.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game for his career.
“It was a tough situation to move into, but a dream come true for me,” said Thompson. “Before my senior year it was projected that I wouldn’t get drafted and then to get picked in the lottery at number 12, words can’t even describe how I felt. A mid-major guy that wasn’t suppose to be there, I was just so excited for the opportunity.”
Evidence of the team’s rebuilding can be seen by the fact that, in just his sixth season, Thompson is now the team’s longest tenured player.
“Since being drafted we haven’t made the playoffs for five or six years and we’ve had six or seven different coaches in my six years,” Thompson noted. “It has been a tough situation, but I’m still here. One of my goals was to be in the league longer than the average player (four years) and last year I signed a five-year deal, so that’s definitely a good thing. Hopefully some day I can say that I was here for the tough times and I was here for the good times as well.”
As a big man who relies on being able to skillfully move around the basket and the perimeter, Thompson needs a versatile shoe that provides him with the stability that big men need, yet gives him the ability to be quick and athletic.
“I’m an explosive type of player that plays above the rim and needs to go coast to coast quickly, so I wear either the Nike KD V Mid or the Nike Hyperdunk,” Thompson said. “They’re both comfortable, light on my feet, and the style points are there too.”
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