OAKLAND, Calif. – It’s the middle of February, the Golden State Warriors are preparing for the back end of a short home stand against two Western Conference rivals – the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder – and Klay Thompson has recently returned from his All-Star break, theoretically a period of respite for NBA players but something that ends up being more like a week of overtime for Thompson, who participated in his fourth consecutive All-Star game and fourth straight 3-point shooting contest this year in L.A.
The seventh-year shooting guard out of Washington State is milling around the team’s practice facility on the top floor of the Marriott City Center in downtown Oakland. Superstar teammate Kevin Durant is wrapping up a media scrum on one end, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green is filming a promo on the other and Golden State’s universally popular point guard, Stephen Curry, a two-time NBA MVP, is hoisting 3-point shots on the nearest practice court.
“Shortbread!” Thompson yells after a rare miss from Curry ricochets off the front iron.
A night earlier, Thompson scored 19 points as the Warriors outlasted the Clippers 134-127 at Oracle Arena. But the ex-Cougar standout is bemoaning that the game caused him to miss Washington State’s win, a 78-76 nail-biter at Cal played 11 miles up the road at Berkeley’s Haas Pavilion. The Cougars visit Stanford two days later, but Thompson once again has work obligations.
“It sucks,” Thompson said. “We have a game on the same freaking days.”
Thompson is a two-time NBA champion, an Olympic gold medalist and has a max NBA contract worth nearly $69 million. One of the game’s most accurate 3-point shooters, he’s known as one of the NBA’s best two-way players. But seven years removed from playing his final game in crimson and gray, Thompson still looks back fondly on his time at WSU, and says some of his best memories were forged in Pullman.
Thompson covers all of that and more in this Q&A with The Spokesman-Review.
Spokesman-Review: Have you been able to follow the Cougars much this year? What’s your take on the state of the basketball program?
Klay Thompson: Well, obviously, the bad news is I don’t think we’ve been to the postseason (under Ernie Kent). That’s my biggest regret, not playing in the NCAA Tournament my junior year. I think we were 19-10 heading into that game against UCLA and I got suspended. We ended up losing. That was a tough pill to swallow. Then we had a chance at the Pac-10 Tournament and we lost to Washington. I see potential in Washington State basketball. They’ve had great success before, it’s just going to take obviously a lot of patience. They’ve just got to get the right guys. It’s hard.
Editor’s note: the interview with Thompson was conducted in February, nearly two months before junior forward Robert Franks declared for the NBA Draft without an agent and starting point guard Malachi Flynn announced plans to transfer from the Cougars.
SR: Are you familiar with the current roster?
KT: I like Malachi Flynn’s game and that kid from Vancouver, Franks. We have a chance next year to be something special. I see 20-win potential in them next year, honestly.
SR: What do you like about Malachi?
KT: Just his headiness, his ability to run a team. He can score [at] all three levels and he’s just a good leader.
SR: Have you had a chance to meet Ernie Kent?
KT: Last year I went to the game at Cal. I try to go every time they play down here. It sucks because it’s a timing issue. It sucks, we have a freaking game on the same days. Cal’s so close. It’s so easy to catch a game there. But I honestly hope for the best for Washington State. I still follow them constantly in football and basketball and take great pride in what they do.
SR: Many NBA players leave college after one or two seasons, but you stayed for three. How valuable was that?
KT: I was never ready after my freshman year. I wasn’t ready for the physicality of the NBA. My sophomore year, I had a chance to leave but we were such a young team. Four freshmen and sophomores, and I realized I could improve my draft position coming back my junior year. I just knew we had a special team, special group. Very happy I stayed there for three years. When I first got to Pullman, it was hard, but that place immediately grew on me. By my junior year, I had the most fun in my life just being a college kid, and we had great crowds at Beasley. It wouldn’t be 11,000 every night, but it would be 6-7,000, which you can’t complain about in college. That’s why it’s sad, man. I watch the games and Beasley’s barely full. I remember playing at Gonzaga, Washington, those guys are packed. It’s unfortunate, but I’m just very grateful I was a Coug. If I was to do it all over again, I’d still go to Washington State.
SR: You were spotted on the sideline at the Cal-WSU football game in October. Is it true you left a preseason game against the Kings to make it there?
KT: Yeah, I left a little early to go check out the game.
SR: Did coach (Steve) Kerr know about it?
KT: He was OK with it. It’s preseason. Like I said, anytime Washington State’s in town, I try to go watch them play.
SR: Did you and [Warriors teammate] Draymond Green – a Michigan State alum – have any sort of bet on the Holiday Bowl?
KT: Just a little hundred bucks.
SR: And you paid up?
KT: Yep, unfortunately. That was ugly, but that’s alright. They had a great year.
SR: What did it mean to hit the 10,000-point milestone (on Feb. 23 against the Clippers)? Is that one you had your eyes on?
KT: I think it’s pretty cool. I didn’t even have my eyes on it. Just the fact that I’m only the 10th Warrior in franchise history to do that, that’s what makes it special. To be one of those 10 guys, that’s a huge honor.
SR: You’ve obviously hit a ton of milestones in your seven seasons with Golden State. What’s left?
KT: Maybe another gold medal playing for Team USA. Hopefully another few NBA championships and continue making these appearances at the All-Star Game. It’s a lot, but those are in my sights.
SR: Any regrets from the NBA 3-point contest? (Thompson lost to Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns despite scoring 25 points)
KT: Devin got hot. He had a great round. No regrets. I tried to keep up with him, man. I was, like, two money balls away. So that happens. I think he made 20, I made 18 shots, but that’s just basketball.
SR: Did you like the change of the All-Star Game format?
KT: It was cool. The game was more competitive, it came down to the wire, and I think it was cool how they changed formats. It was cool to play with other guys that I’d never get to play with.
SR: Was it special to play the game in Los Angeles?
KT: Oh, yeah. I went to high school down there. To see the family, friends, it was awesome.