By Steven Eggert
Three years removed after his collegiate playing days at Rider, Ryan Thompson, ’10, has become quite the basketball traveler. He’s played professionally in both the United States and in Europe.
This year he is playing for Generali Okapi Aalstar of the Ethias League, located in Belgium, one year after playing a season in Italy.
“I want to see what Belgium looks like, how the people there interact and just to meet my team,” Thompson said. “I also wanted to play in a better league than last year and against teams all over Europe. I’m told we have a good team, so we will hopefully win a championship. We shall see.”
Backtracking to his graduating year in 2010, Thompson went unselected in the NBA draft, but played in the NBA Summer League with the Boston Celtics and the Sacramento Kings. He played a season in the NBA D-League, but was cut before the 2011 NBA lockout. Then, he decided to play overseas.
“I was mad at not being drafted, but playing in both summer leagues was a great opportunity for me and I learned a lot,” Thompson said. “After those summer leagues, I went to Utah and was released. I knew I wasn’t going back to the D-League, so that’s when I knew I was ready to start playing overseas.”
Baggett said the reason that Thompson has struggled to play in the NBA is the amount of talented players at his position wth the same aspirations.
“I do believe there are a lot of guards in the country,” Baggett said. “So it’s that old cliché guards come a dime a dozen. I still believe Ryan is going to get there; I think it’s taking him a little longer on his journey though.”
Last year, Thompson played for Centrale Del Latte Brescia, a professional team in Italy. Though playing internationally was an adjustment, he enjoyed his time overseas.
“I loved the overall experience,” Thompson said. “They treated me amazing there. It was actually my first time playing any basketball overseas, and I think it was a great opportunity. I started off real slow because I had to learn all the rules and the game. It’s much different from [playing in the U.S.]. Toward the end, I got the hang of everything and did well. I even got to fly my parents out to see me play and I got to explore Italy.”
Adjusting to life outside the United States was a challenge for him both on and off the court.
“The language was the hardest thing for me because in my city, people spoke no English and the six-hour time difference was hard,” Thompson said. “Interacting with the people I would say was entertainment in itself.”
In July 2012, the Orlando Magic gave him another opportunity to play in the NBA Summer League, but he did not make the team.
“I was disappointed on how that whole summer league turned out,” Thompson said. “I don’t think I got used the way I should have in Orlando. [Coaches told me] just not to worry about it and keep working toward the dream.”
Besides the NBA coaches, his older brother Jason, a forward for the Sacramento Kings, would also give him advice that would motivate him to keep following his dreams.
“[Jason] always tells me keep working and always have the NBA goal in mind,” Thompson said. “Never take no for an answer and just keep pushing. My goal is to be in the NBA and I feel like it’ll happen eventually. I feel my chances are always the same of teams are calling me to come back to summer leagues.”
When Baggett observed Thompson’s summer games, he noticed something he had struggled with even during his days at Rider.
“It’s just a matter of him being more selfish,” Baggett said. “Ryan’s always been talented. He can play with the best of them, but there’s times where he defers to other talent on the court, and I think he’s too unselfish sometimes. Even when I watched him in the NBA Summer Camp, he still was deferring at times to where he could take over a game and dominate.”
Thompson feels his path overseas will better prepare him for the NBA. Even though it’s a more time consuming route to get there, it’s right for him.
“I know this whole process takes longer for people,” Thompson said. “I was just giving the NBA dream more of a try, thinking the D-League would help me out, but I just didn’t like [it]. I feel like the competition was much better overseas in the league I played in.”
Coach Baggett has seen Thompson grow into a talented basketball player since his first days playing at Rider.
“Ryan came in as a very thin student athlete,” Baggett said. “As time went on, he started to really work in the weight room, getting stronger and once he had the strength to go with his athleticism he became a really good player. That’s what stands out to me the most when you talk about his transition from where he is now to back then.”
Thompson has experienced ups and downs on his journey to the NBA, but at the end of the day, he feels lucky that he makes money doing something he is passionate about.
“It’s a great journey,” Thompson said. “I’ve gotten to do NBA things and play in Europe. It’s the best of both worlds so I don’t mind it at all. I’m getting paid to do what I love, so in my eyes, I made it.”
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