One more Pac-10 game for the Washington State University Cougars. And one more for Mac Court. Walked to the top seats in the venerable gym – calling it an arena would just be wrong – and took in the ambience one last time. My first game there was in 1981 and I was shocked how much it bounced and how old it seemed then. Almost 30 years later and it seems to be holding up better than I am. Anyhow, that’s off the point. I’ve got a story on the link that’s a little off the wall. So read on.
• Here’s the unedited version I filed for tomorrow’s S-R …
EUGENE, Ore. – With 4 minutes and 43 seconds left in the first half Thursday night, Klay Thompson headed for the Washington State University bench.
The sophomore had two fouls, two points and only one shot. WSU trailed Oregon State 25-13, building what would be an 18-point halftime deficit.
Thompson was frustrated. So he made room on the bench and plopped down next to his roommate, both in their place in Pullman and on this road trip.
And Michael Harthun did what friends do. He told Thompson the truth.
“I just basically told him to try to be more aggressive because we need you,” Harthun said Friday after the Cougars practice at Mac Court in preparation for tonight’s game with the University of Oregon. “You’re the best player on this team and we need you to score to win.”
Thompson took the advice to heart, exploding out of the locker room with seven quick shots and 11 points, helping the Cougars rally to within one in a game they would ultimately lose, 59-55.
“It was about trying to get better looks and moving without the ball,” Thompson said of the conversation. “(Against) that zone, it’s easy to be stagnant.”
Though Thompson’s 16-point second-half explosion is an extreme example of what a roommate’s pep talk can lead to, the underlying truth is simple.
Though you may hear the same thing over and over from the coaching staff, it sometimes takes a peer’s voice to get through.
“I think it really does help to have a teammate who is willing to talk to you and hear you out, and then give you positive advice,” Harthun said. “And be honest with you. I’m not going to tell him something I don’t really feel about his game.
“I talk to Klay a lot,” Harthun added. “He has high expectations for himself and a lot of pressure from a lot of different people. I try to get him to loosen up and just go out there and play.”
Though Harthun and Thompson are both sophomores and basically play the same position, that’s not a prerequisite for bonding. Freshmen Xavier Thames – an African-American guard from Sacramento – and Brock Motum – a forward from Australia – room together in the dorms and have found common ground.
“He’s like a brother to me,” said Thames, who has found much more playing time than his roommate. “We just help each other out, on and off the court. He tells me what to work on and I tell him what to work on.”
But it isn’t all about hoops.
“There are times when I’m down, missing home, missing my family, when he’s right there with me,” Thames said of Motum. “And I’m there with him because he’s so far away, a whole different country, so I’m there when he’s down as well.
“Like I said, he’s like a brother. A brother who speaks a different language.”
But there is one thing they all share. Basketball is the overriding element in their lives right now, for good and bad.
“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs these two years,” said Harthun, who averages just 9.7 minutes and 1.7 points a game. “Like Klay, I’m really hard on myself as well and I haven’t performed as well as I hoped I would. He definitely tries to relate to me, to relate to my situation and help me through it.
“I respect his opinion and his advice. … He knows the game really well and we’re really good friends, so I know he wants the best for me.”
But even though Thompson is the third-leading scorer in the Pac-10, averaging 19.6 points a game, there is one thing he must work on, Harthun said.
He’s got to get better at picking up.
“I do a lot of the cleaning around the house,” Harthun said, laughing. “He’s a good roommate overall, except the cleaning part. Sometimes I have to hassle him a little bit just to do the dishes.”
• That’s all for tonight. We’ll be back in the morning with our usual post. Until then …