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The Rise of Tristan Thompson

Six Years & Counting

Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 17:02

It’s official Cavs fans: Tristan Thompson is for real. The controversial No. 4 pick in last season’s draft has quickly solidified himself into not only an everyday starter, but proven himself worthy of such a high draft pick. Here’s a look back on Thompson’s meteoric rise to the NBA.

Year 1 (2007-08): Thompson, raised in Brampton, Ontario, plays his first organized basketball after enrolling at St. Marguerite d’Youville. Thompson quickly shows great promise and after two visits to the U.S., transfers to St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, N.J. By the end of his sophomore year, Thompson is the highest rated recruit in the nation.

Year 2 (2008-09): Thompson continues to excel at St. Benedict’s, which quickly becomes one of the top-rated programs in the country. During his 21st game of the season, a nationally televised match against the No. 1 ranked Mater Dei, Thompson is pulled from the game after a blown play. Coach Don Hurley, known for his in-your-face style, verbally bashes his star player in front of the nation. Thompson later announces his intention to transfer, along with teammate and current San Antonio Spurs guard Cory Joseph.

Joining his new team, unheralded Findlay Prep, weeks before the playoffs, Thompson thrives under his new coach. Thompson and Joseph quickly bond with their new teammates and lead Findlay to both state and national championships, further cementing his place as the top recruit in the nation.

Year 3 (2009-10): Findlay Prep repeats as national champion. Thompson is just the fourth Canadian-born player to be named to the McDonald’s All-American team. He announces on national signing day that he will attend the University of Texas.

Year 4 (2010-11): Thompson establishes himself as one of the top players in the nation, winning the coveted Wayman Tisdale award for the nation’s top freshman. He is also named as honorable mention for the USWBA All-American team and is selected to their Freshman All-American squad.

Thompson also rakes in the Big-12 awards (2nd team Big-12, Freshman of the Year, All-Defense and All-rookie teams) as Texas goes undefeated in the conference before being eliminated in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Soon after, Thompson announces he will forego his sophomore year and declares for the NBA draft.

Year 5 (2011-2012): Thompson is projected by ESPN to be the 10th pick in the draft, citing offensive worries and size issues as red flags. Undeterred, the Cleveland Cavaliers shock the draft by selecting him with the fourth pick.

As a rookie, Thompson plays sparingly behind veterans Anderson Varejao and Antawn Jamison. Despite limited play time, he is selected to the Rising Stars Challenge (top nine rookies and sophomores). After an injury to Varejao, Thompson is named the new starting center, averaging 9.3 ppg and 7.5 rpg as a starter and scoring in double-figures in 10 of his last 16 games.

Year 6 (2012-2013): Thompson enters camp as the starting power forward, putting up comparable numbers to the end of his rookie year with Varejao playing like an All-Star and Thompson in the supporting role (8.6 ppg and 7.6 rpg).

On Dec. 18, Varejao is injured and later declared out for the season with an unrelated medical condition. With no other established big men on the roster, coach Byron Scott was forced to turn to the 21-year-old forward to anchor his frontcourt. Thompson quickly rose to the challenge.

In the 27 games since the injury, Thompson’s numbers have skyrocketed, averaging a double-double with 14.6 ppg and 10.6 rpg. His 13 double-doubles since Dec. 28 are also the fourth best in the Eastern conference. Much of this can be credited to his new confidence on the offensive end of the court.

“Right now he’s just oozing with confidence,” coach Scott said. “He has this natural-born leadership in him.”

Scott also noted his emergence as a distributor in the offense, referring to him now as a “hub” in the offense, instead of a “hole.”

“He had five assists last night,” Scott said last month. “I’m not sure he had five last year. The game has slowed down so much for him. He understands exactly what’s going on out there. And it will continue to slow down for him.”

Pairing Thompson with reigning Rookie-of-the-Year and current All-Star Kyrie Irving, it is easy to see why the Cavs are a team on the up. As the two continue to grow together, Cleveland will continue to rise. And with a guy as athletic and talented as Thompson, the sky truly is the limit.


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