By Kristie Kahl
Rider alumnus Jason Thompson set the salary bar for Communication majors at its all-time high.
On Thursday, June 26, the Sacramento Kings chose Thompson as the 12th overall pick in the NBA Draft.
“It was a great feeling to know all of my hard work paid off,” he said. “At first, I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s an awesome feeling.”
With many predictions discussed before the Draft, Thompson was first estimated to go late in the first round or early in the second. As the weeks drew closer, teams began to realize Thompson’s potential and skills. He was placed to go anywhere from the late teens to the early 20s in the first round. One mock draft prediction placed him as high as the 14th pick going to the Golden State Warriors.
“In the past couple of weeks before the Draft it became more obvious he was going earlier just from talking to NBA personnel and teams,” said Tom Dempsey, Rider’s head basketball coach. “I was excited before the Draft, and my interest started to pick up as I started to hear rumblings of him going high, but I’m excited he was chosen as early as he was.”
After graduating in May, Thompson said that he spent his weeks waiting for the big announcement by traveling the nation and working out with different teams, such as Golden State, Orlando, Seattle, Denver, Memphis, Phoenix, Utah, Toronto, Washington, Cleveland, Houston, Boston, Sacramento, Detroit, New York and New Jersey.
According to ReviewJournal.com, Sacramento had been following Thompson for over a year, taking its first glance in Las Vegas at the Pete Newell’s Big Man’s Camp. The Kings’ interest peaked when they had the chance to watch Thompson work out in Oakland, Calif. Thompson sealed the deal with a chance meeting with Kings Coach Reggie Theus at the airport.
Many reviews had a common theme when it came to Thompson’s fit with Sacramento. With his adaptability, size and strength up court, Thompson has the potential to compliment the Kings’ program, who was looking for a multitalented player. The Kings found themselves next to last in the league in rebounding last season, averaging just 40.1 per game.
“I think I can bring a lot of energy and versatility to the Kings,” Thompson said. “I can help with rebounding, shooting from outside of my point range and defense. I think I’ll be able to offer a little bit of everything.”
As a senior, Thompson ranked second in the nation in rebounding with 12.1 per game, 18th in blocked shots, 29th in scoring – averaging 20.4 points a game – and 36th in field goal percentage (.560).
“I think Jason was one of the most versatile big men in the Draft,” Dempsey said. “At 6’11” there’s nothing he can’t do. He has a lot of character and he’s a terrific player all around. He’ll be able to represent the organization in Sacramento just like he did here at Rider. He’s a perfect ambassador and he’ll bring the same qualities to the Kings that he was able to bring to Rider.”
Besides claiming the 12th pick in the lottery round, Thompson was the first collegiate senior, out of only five others that went within the first round, chosen in the 2008 Draft and became the first 12th overall pick in Kings Franchise history.
With his lottery pick, Thompson can forget about all those student loans he accumulated over the years as he’ll make almost two million dollars as his rookie season salary.
“We were very excited for him because this meant he would have a guaranteed contract for his first three years in the NBA, and he would be financially secure for the rest of his life,” Dempsey said.
Coming from a college with less than 5,000 full-time undergraduates, Thompson surprised many as the third power forward chosen and the only name coming from a small school.
“He walked into our doors as a kid and he left as a man,” Dempsey said. “There were so many kids in the draft, and as a man he was more ready to start his career in the NBA. He is more prepared for the NBA lifestyle compared to the 18 and 19 year olds.”
California seems to agree with Thompson as he finds success in the Kings’ summer league games. In his first game, he claimed 12 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes of play to assist the Kings in their 93-86 victory over Toronto.
Thompson stuck out from the rest in his second league game, where he converted a three-point play while being fouled with 12.7 seconds left in overtime. Thompson put Sacramento up by one to help clinch a Kings win.
During his time on the sunny West Coast, Thompson has accumulated 16.2 points and 8.6 rebounds in five games, averaging 29.4 minutes. His stats continue to increase as Thompson averages a .490 field goal percentage, a .200 three-point percentage and a .744 free throw percentage.
As he looked back on his time at Rider, Thompson had one piece of advice for his old team: Make it to the NCAA Tournament.
“I didn’t get the chance to go,” said Thompson. “Just work hard. I’ll be the first guy to tell people not to give up just because you don’t go to a big school. Just work hard, play with a big heart and stay level-headed.”
As Thompson moves on to the next chapter of his life, he has nothing but gratitude for the Rider community.
“I just wanted to thank everyone for their support,” Thompson said. “It feels good to be a graduate from Rider. I want to thank Rider, the community and all of the fans who have supported me through the years. It was a great four years and I just wanted to say thank you.”