Sacramento Kings guard Isaiah Thomas knocked the ball away from the opposing team and its blue-collar power forward sprinted to the other side of the court, awaiting a pass from his teammate Marcus Thornton on a breakaway.
Jason Thompson knew he had Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors breathing down his neck — He made eye contact with Thornton to deliver the pass and Thompson dunked it with authority, sending Favors flying to the floor becoming a poster for the ages.
Thompson may have this poster framed in his house but the real accolade that is indelible, is a TV/Radio degree he earned in four years at Rider University.
“I was the proudest papa around, I couldn’t wait for him to come down the line and I even ran down the line pushing people aside to shake his hand to say its official,” said his father, Chuck Thompson. “You now have a brain, you are intelligent and I would tease him, but I said, you did it man, now everything is on you.”
The average annual salary in the NBA is $5.85 million and players are generally secure in the near term. Their retirement years can be completely different. An estimated 60 percent of NBA players are broke within five years of retiring, according to Sports Illustrated.
Numerous factors can disrupt the financial lifestyle of a young star athlete drafted to play a sport. Not having a complete college education and receiving an enormous salary at such a young age can be tempting to spend it quickly. But Thompson feels confident in his future.
“Hopefully I’m going to be a broadcaster,” Thompson said. “I’m not shy when it comes to talking to the media or taking interviews, so hopefully I have something to fall back on and obviously it helps when you have a college degree.”
Thompson was born on July 21, 1986 in Camden, New Jersey. He is the son of Chuck and Sharyn Thompson and has a younger brother named Ryan Thompson who currently plays professional basketball in Europe.
Ironically, during his early stages of his life, soccer was a sport he thrived in and his father had no idea how to train him in soccer, so he made him kick a basketball and nearly put his son in a cast due to his hip flexor dislocating. But Thompson had to call it quits because his feet grew rapidly and his parents couldn’t afford special size orders for cleats, according to his father.
Chuck would then focus strictly on basketball and would challenge his two boys intensely by giving them drills to execute before entering the house for dinner. One day Ryan ran into the house joyfully bragging that he beat his brother one-on-one but Thompson denied it.
Thompson and his younger brother are very close and live together in a condominium in Philadelphia during the summer to work on their games.
Thompson may have a stereotypical assumption that he was born to be a basketball player due to his 6-foot-11 inch frame but believe it or not, he was only 5-feet-11 as a freshman in high school.
Doctors would tell Thompson’s parents that he would stay short but his mother would respond with authority saying there was no way that was possible due to her 6-foot frame. And throughout his four years in high school, he grew to be 6-foot-6 and had his final growth spurt in college.
Big Fish in Small Pond
It was game day for Rider at Notre Dame but players and coaches wanted to attend the college Football Hall of Fame. After the HOF ceremony, head coach Tommy Dempsey decided to allow a quick football game that consisted of players against coaches.
It just happened that Thompson would play receiver and the man that recruited him would defend him on that possession. Thompson sprinted long and Dempsey chased him on a long route but only to be highly disappointed due to his hamstring being pulled.
“That’s something the players will never let me forget,” said a chuckling Dempsey. “I couldn’t even sit down on the chair that night during the game because it hurt a lot, but it was great having lots of fun together that day.”
Thompson would not be highly recruited until his senior year after leading Lenape High School to the 2004 New Jersey Group IV state title. UCLA and Villanova University wanted Thompson but he had committed to Rider before his senior year began.
Thompson stuck with his decision to commit to Rider, even though it was tempting to make the move to these successful programs.
With that being said, his first two years were difficult for him because he was so accustomed to winning. But it all changed senior season as he had a better nucleus around him, which included his brother. He averaged 20.4 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 1.1 steals per game, making him a sleeper in the NBA Draft.
“It might be once in a lifetime having a special player like Jason on and off the court,” said lead assistant and now current head coach at Rider Kevin Baggett.
According to his coaches, Thompson would lead by example and would never want to get off the floor, which made it very easy for them to coach him. His teammates would have to come up to his level to match his intensity.
“Jason exceeded any expectation I had of him and not only was he the face of Rider basketball but the face of Rider University,” Dempsey said.
“With the twelfth overall pick, the Sacramento Kings select Jason Thompson from Rider University,” echoed NBA Commissioner David Stern in the 2008 Draft. This was the beginning to a new lifestyle for Thompson and his family.
Thompson’s label was a power forward with a never-ending motor in his body. He grew up admiring Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett but wanted to earn their respect early in his career. Many NBA analysts wondered if his dominance in college would translate into the NBA—Or would he be another player that dominated in a smaller program?
Thus far, Thompson has been everything but a bust because of his high energy and consistency he displays every night. He is averaging 10.5 points and 7.2 rebounds in his career.
On June 25, 2012, the Kings extended a qualifying offer to Thompson, making him a restricted free agent. A couple weeks later, on July 11, 2012, the Kings agreed to re-sign Thompson.
“Even though the Kings have had a losing record since Jason arrived in Sacramento, he still dives for loose balls, takes charges and is always smiling having fun on the court and that’s the Jason that I’m proud of,” Baggett said.
His mother said the Thompson’s are known for not sitting together during games due to the critical judgment of dad.
“He’s just too opinionated and I don’t like it when he’s opinionated about my children,” Sharyn said in a chuckling voice. “You can be opinionated on anybody else but not my kids.”
Whatever the case may be, Thompson has had excellent games when his parents are in the house cheering him on.
Thompson’s style of play, hard work and commitment to serving the Sacramento community has galvanized Kings fans around the NBA to view him as a role model and a consummate professional.
“Jason never let me down and was always reliable, which is why I believe he will have a long NBA career,” Dempsey said. “There will always be a spot for a Jason Thompson in the NBA because coaches know he is a guy they can count on and there is a value to that.”