Digging deep, NBA player gives back

By Shanna O’Mara

The new practice facility being built behind Alumni Gym will bear the name of storied graduate Jason Thompson, ’08.

Thompson, a seven-year NBA veteran and major donor to the project, attended the groundbreaking ceremony on July 27 and said he’s proud to give back to his alma mater.

“I never shy away from coming back to Rider,” he said.

During his senior year, Thompson was the 12th overall pick in the NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings. Last summer, he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and then to the defending NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors.

“When I came here as a freshman, I never imagined being in the league right now, eight years in, coming back to the school that I went to and having my name on the new practice facility court,” Thompson said. “I’m living the dream.”

The construction of this $2.25 million facility is part of a multi-phased project to expand the Alumni Gym, the oldest building on the Lawrenceville campus. This phase of the project was funded entirely through private donations. The 8,400 square-foot gym will be more accessible for the men’s and women’s basketball teams who, until now, have had to meet at obscure times because of limited availability.

“The Jason Thompson Court recognizes Jason for his financial commitment to the Campaign for Rider Athletics, his passion for Rider Basketball and his willingness to help us move the program forward,” Rider Director of Athletics Don Harnum said in a press release.

Rider retired Thompson’s jersey in 2009, making this just the second basketball number and sixth sports’ uniform honored in university history. Thompson’s basketball number of 1 was retired. Earlier were the numbers 4, men’s basketball; 9, softball; 19, field hockey; as well as 9 and 31, baseball.

He is the second Rider player to be drafted into the NBA, the first being Greg Cisson in 1968.

During his time at Rider, Thompson earned 2,040 points and a program-record 1,171 rebounds in 122 games, gaining All-American status. In the NBA, he has played 541 games as a King, accumulating over 5,000 points and 3,750 rebounds in seven seasons.

Referring to his selection as a “blessing,” Thompson recalled the moment he realized he had made it big.

“I found out I was drafted not long before everyone else did,” he said. “I had a big draft party with all of my friends and family, and we enjoyed the moment until I had to wake up the next morning to catch my flight to California. You enjoy that in one suit, then fly 3,000 miles and change into another.”

As he transitions from being one of the youngest players on the Kings to being a veteran on the Warriors, Thompson assumes his new leadership role.

“I’ve been through a lot with this organization, the good and the bad, so I can teach the young guys, especially those who haven’t even played a full season yet, to be even better,” he said.

Although Thompson has been out of school and in the league for nearly eight years, he has yet to forget his roots. Often returning to practice with the Broncs and working with Head Coach Kevin Baggett, Thompson also maintains relationships with the professors to whom he credits his entrepreneurial success.

“They really thrive off of being able to help students get to where they want to be and achieve their goals,” he said.

Graduating with a degree in communication, Thompson’s goal is to become a TV and radio sports analyst. He credits his broadcasting experience at Rider as well as his time at Sportscaster U, a broadcast training camp for basketball players, as he looks forward to a career after his playing time has ended.

“There is no time limit for me,” he said. “I’ll play until the wheels fall off, but God forbid anything happens to me, I have something to fall back on, and that’s very important.”

Thompson has learned the value of continuing his education and planning for the future while working with other NBA greats such as Amar’e Stoudemire, Nazr Mohammed and Danny Granger.

“We’re not just athletes on the court. We have to be entrepreneurs, to support ourselves and our families,” he said.

Thompson also admits to having another passion off the court: relationships. He hopes to pursue a radio career not only centered on sports but one that would delve into the complicated world of dating. Thompson says he is “greatly intrigued” by this topic and  would like to explore this subject, telling stories he has heard over the years and perhaps shedding light on a few athletes’ perspectives.

“I’d handle sports during the day and host an XM show about relationships in my free time,” he said.

He also plans on dedicating much of his free time to community service, as he did in Sacramento. Teaming up with the American Heart Association, the generous Rider alumnus established the Jason Thompson Foundation in honor of his cousin, Tiffany Carroll, who passed away in 2010 of heart disease. Through this foundation, he works with children to battle issues such as obesity and juvenile diabetes. He encourages healthy eating and regular exercise with the goal of decreasing the number of deaths because of such illnesses.

Throughout the year, Thompson also hosted toy drives and turkey giveaways, and visited children’s hospitals. While moving from Sacramento to Oakland, Thompson hopes to continue his charity work with his next team.

“I’m excited for this new opportunity,” he said. “I’m going to continue to help out wherever I can.”

Looking back at his years at Rider and experience in the NBA, Thompson has a word of advice for young athletes hoping to succeed within their sport as well as all those continuing their education with the goal of conquering the business world.

“Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. With hard work, dedication and support from family and friends, anything is possible.”

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