When Klay Thompson and Marcus Capers arrived at Washington State as freshmen in the fall of 2008, it did not take long for Capers to see that his backcourt partner could shoot the lights out.
On the other hand, it did take some time before Capers was certain Thompson could speak.
“The first few days I met him, I thought he was mute,” Capers joked. “I didn’t think he could talk at all. But he’s opened up.”
Thompson may never be an extrovert, but his game speaks volumes.
A junior, Thompson is on pace to finish the season as the third-leading scorer in school history behind Steve Puidokas and Jim McKean. Thompson currently ranks third in career (17.5) and season (22.2) points per game.
Thompson leads the Pacific-10 Conference in scoring and 3-point field goals made per game (3.1). He’s second in assists (4.4) and free-throw-shooting percentage (83.8), fourth in steals (1.9) and minutes played (34.2), fifth in 3-point-shooting percentage (42.8) and eighth in blocked shots (1.1) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3).
“He is spectacular,” summed up WSU coach Ken Bone.
Thompson, who has scored 20 or more points 13 times this season, is coming off a decidedly unspectacular performance against Arizona. The 6-foot-6 guard scored a season-low nine points on 4-for-16 shooting, clanked his only two free throws and missed a 12-foot jumper in the final moments of a two-point loss.
“I was trying to create the best shot I had (at the end),” Thompson said. “I thought I did a good of that. I just missed the shot.”
Last year, Thompson scored 12 points on ghastly 4-for-29 shooting in WSU’s two games against Washington. Bone doesn’t anticipate any carryover from those games or the Arizona game when the Cougars (14-6, 4-4 Pac-10) take on the 18th-ranked Huskies (15-4, 7-1) in Pullman at 7 p.m. Sunday on FSN.
“Last year, it seemed like – and I really didn’t know him as well last year at this time – it seemed like he was putting some pressure on himself,” said Bone, Washington State’s second-year coach. “This year, I don’t sense that at all.”
Thompson said he agrees with the coach on both points.
“We were a really young team last year,” Thompson said. “We’re a lot more balanced this year, and it helps all our games. There’s not as much pressure on any one individual.”
“I think a lot of people were in his head last year, whether it was family or friends or fans,” Capers said. “They gave him the impression he had to do it by himself.
“I’m not saying he’s easily influenced, but once you hear something a lot of times, you tend to think that way.”
Bone joins Washington State players and rival coaches and players in praising Thompson for the way he has developed his all-around skills on offense and defense. A three-year starter, Thompson’s contributions as a freshman largely consisted of jump shots from the perimeter.
“I think I’ve improved my play-making ability,” Thompson said. “I’m not just a shooter-scorer anymore.
“I think I can pass and create for my teammates. It’s opened up a whole new facet of my game.”
In good times and bad, Thompson rarely shows much emotion. His body language, horrid at times his first two years in college, has improved dramatically.
“Klay’s a good guy,” Capers said. “That’s something a lot of people may not see.
“On the court, he’ll show no emotions, and around campus, he’s pretty much to himself for the most part. (But) he’s talking a whole lot more.”
Says WSU forward Abe Lodwick, who lives with Thompson and teammates Brock Motum and Charlie Enquist: “You’ve got to ‘work the count’ with him a little bit, but he’ll talk. He’s got his opinions.
“You’ve just got to get to know him. Like his teammates and roommates, we can’t get him to shut up.”
Indeed, Thompson declared prior to the season that he 1) wanted to win the Pac-10 Player of the Year award; 2) WSU had a “realistic” shot at its first conference championship since 1941; and 3) he will bypass his senior year to turn pro if he considers himself ready.
NBA draft expert Chad Ford of ESPN ranks Thompson 25th among 2011 NBA draft prospects, and No. 1 among shooting guards. That’s pretty good for a late-blooming player who was not offered a scholarship by any other Pac-10 school, even though he moved to talent-laden Orange County, Calif., for high school after growing up in the Portland suburb of Lake Oswego.
If Thompson makes it to the NBA, he’ll have good genes on his side. Father Mychal spent 13 years in the NBA; mother Julie played volleyball at the University of San Francisco; older brother Mychel plays basketball for Pepperdine; and younger brother Trayce is an outfielder in the Chicago White Sox organization.
Thompson may join his baby brother in the play-for-pay ranks in a few months, but first he’d like to help bring an end to that 70-year gap since a conference title banner was last hung in the rafters at Wazzu.
“There’s a chance we can run the table,” Thompson said. “I mean, there’s no team just heads and shoulders above everybody.”