By Charles Guthrie
He’s been Rider’s big man on campus, both literally and figuratively, for the past four years.
Fans and scouts alike have filled the arenas he’s played in to find out what he’s all about. Detroit Pistons President Joe Dumars, Phoenix Suns Assistant General Manager Vinny Del Negro and President of Basketball Operations/G.M. Steve Kerr have been in attendance at the Broncs’ games just to see him live.
The man is power forward Jason Thompson, the most hyped athlete to ever play on the small Lawrenceville campus. Whenever his name was mentioned during one of Rider’s seven ESPN televised games, the words “future NBA draft pick” usually preceded it.
Thompson never disappointed on national television, averaging 22.6 points and 12.9 rebounds per game when “The World Wide Leader in Sports” was in town, making his name even bigger than his 6-foot-11, 250-pound frame.
“He can and does dominate [against] teams like Siena, where he’s had 124 points and 84 rebounds versus them the past five games, and showed up big time when the Broncs played Kansas State in November,” New York Daily News college basketball writer Dick “Hoops” Weiss said.
With just over 20 points and 12 rebounds per contest for the season, it was a tremendous senior year overall for the Broncs’ big man, and he was recognized for his accomplishments when he was named the MAAC Player of the Year. Thompson’s presence on the floor was known throughout the 2007-08 season and the experts took notice.
“He reminds me of P.J. Brown who has played in the NBA for 15 years,” ESPN college basketball analyst and former college head coach Fran Fraschilla said. “They both have similar size and similar skill. Jason’s a tall, athletic power forward and his skill level is good.”
Thompson brings a lot to the table, and that’s what has separated him as a possible future NBA player. He’s had a chance to play the guard position at Lenape High School, and those around the game like how he handles the ball for a big man. There are other qualities he possesses outside of his gaudy numbers that made him a special player for Rider.
“He knows how to pass out of the double team,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said. “He’s a good ball handler, can rebound at a high rate, a really good teammate, can step away from the basket and isn’t just playing under the basket taking advantage of bad competition.”
Selected as the MAAC Defensive Player of the Year this season, Weiss likes his defensive prowess, where he had career highs in blocks with 91 and steals with 36, along with his progression throughout his career. Since his freshman year, Thompson’s points and rebounding totals have risen each season. His assists have also made a huge upward turn from 65 to 93 in his senior year.
“[He has] good timing and shot blocking ability,” he said. “He’s constantly improved during his four years in college and it’s nice to see that in a prospect.”
While he shone on the court with people closely watching his every move, the Lenape, N.J., native was not a new name to the experts on the college scene entering his senior campaign.
“I had him on my radar during his junior season,” Bilas said. “I thought he was good from watching him put up those numbers. There’s not a game he’s played the past year and a half without NBA scouts watching him.”
The numbers Bilas is talking about — averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per game — made the Broncs’ power forward one of three players in the entire country to accomplish that feat last season. The other two were Nevada’s Nick Fazekas and the 2007 NBA Draft’s No. 2 overall selection, Kevin Durant out of Texas.
After the season, it was then time for Thompson to showcase his skills over the summer. He made two visits to Lebron James’ King’s Academy, a visit to Amare Stoudemire’s Basketball Camp and to the Pete Newell Big Man Camp. Playing well at these high profile camps with other top notch talent from around the country only proved the two-time First Team All-MAAC recipient is for real.
“A lot of NBA scouts go there to watch the college counselors play,” Fraschilla said. “It’s very impressive for a guy from the MAAC to go and show so well.”
According to the assistant director of Scouting for Marty Blake & Associates Inc., Ryan Blake, Thompson was looked at as soon as he put on the cranberry and white uniform.
“If you’re seven-foot and breathing, you’re a prospect,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you’ll play in the NBA though. He was around 6-foot-9, 230 pounds as a freshman, so we put him as a prospect. Guys can develop every year so you have to give them looks.”
He’s a good player that’s been established. Now Thompson is headed to the NBA, playing against the best of the best, and there are some things he will need to improve upon if he wants plans on staying around.
“He’ll need to improve in a number of different areas, but that’s true of a lot of players,” said Bilas, who is also an NBA draft-analyst. “He needs to get stronger, continue to work on his face-up jumper, and improve at running the floor efficiently.”
His skill set that made him a dynamic player for four years won’t separate him as much from the other pros because there are power forwards and centers that can do what he can do. Fraschilla said for the USBWA District II Player of the Year to make it, he will have to find his own place in the league.
“He might run well at the Mid-Major level, but is just an average athlete in the NBA, and that’s not a negative,” Fraschilla said. “The level is so good, he will be up against 50 Jasons. When he gets there, he’s going to have to carve out his own niche.”
Competition is a question surrounding Thompson since he’s coming out of the MAAC, which was ranked 17th in conference RPI out of 32 conferences. Bilas and Fraschilla didn’t find it to be a major concern, but Madison Square Garden Network and 1050 ESPN Radio College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein said it could play a factor and Thompson will need to show in his workouts prior to the draft that it isn’t one.
“He didn’t get to play at a major Division-I level,” he said. “There’s not a lot of competition in the MAAC, but he will get to show what he’s got in the pre-draft workouts.”
Blake agrees with the fact that Thompson needs to attend the pre-draft camp. To Blake, a lot of prospects leave college with the publicity, but don’t go to the camp and wind up hurting their stock.
“He needs to show teams that he wants to play and that he’s not sitting on his talent and hiding it,” he said. “Teams that invest in a player want clear, concise answers.”
Where he will go has been an interesting discussion. NBADraft.net has Thompson going 22nd, DraftExpress.com has him going 29th, and MyNBADraft.com doesn’t have him as a first rounder.
According to Weiss, Thompson could go anywhere from 18th to 28th in the first round. Kansas State’s Michael Beasley, Texas A &M’s De Andre Jordan, UCLA’s Kevin Love and Syracuse’s Donte Green are guys he expects to be drafted before Thompson. He then said “probably” Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert and Kansas’ Darrell Arthur to go ahead of Rider’s big man.
Some big names Thompson will go ahead of in Weiss’ opinion are Indiana’s D.J. White, California’s Ryan Anderson, USC’s Taj Gibson.
He’s a first round pick, but no projection can be made yet on where Thompson will go, Bilas said, because everyone who’s entering the draft won’t be known until April 27. Also, team needs can influence his stock.
That question will be answered on June 26 at Madison Square Garden.