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Grip on Sports: Klay Thompson is Washington State’s biggest booster in the NBA these days

ORG XMIT: WADH106 Washington State guard Klay Thompson (1) blocks the shot of Arizona State guard Marcus Jackson (25) as forward Abe Lodwick (31) watches during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011, in Pullman, Wash. Thompson had four blocks to go with his 22 points as Washington State won 78-61. (Dean Hare / AP)
ORG XMIT: WADH106 Washington State guard Klay Thompson (1) blocks the shot of Arizona State guard Marcus Jackson (25) as forward Abe Lodwick (31) watches during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011, in Pullman, Wash. Thompson had four blocks to go with his 22 points as Washington State won 78-61. (Dean Hare / AP)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Has it been seven years already? It seems like only yesterday Klay Thompson was pulling up from 24 feet in Pullman. Read on.

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• When Theo Lawson followed Washington State on its nearly annual basketball road trip to California and Stanford in February, he also made a stop in Oakland. There, he visited with Thompson, Tony Bennett’s out-of-seemingly-nowhere find his final year at WSU.

Thompson has never been the most media-hungry athlete in the NBA, but when he talks about his days in Pullman, he is almost Magic Johnson effusive. He came to love it there and it shows in how he speaks about the place in Theo’s wide-ranging interview.

So I wonder where he stands on the Cougar Country vs. In-n-Out debate? (Sorry, got involved in a Twitter back-and-forth about that last night. I loved eating at Cougar Country during my five years living in Pullman, but there is nothing that compares to an In-n-Out hamburger.)

Anyhow, Thompson had his ups and downs in his time with the Cougars, some of them on the same weekend. 

We are thinking about, of course, the time he was suspended for being cited with marijuana in his car (how quaint, huh?) before a crucial Pac-10 game with UCLA.

Thompson took the microphone at Beasley and apologized to those in attendance just before the under-manned Cougars came within a missed free throw of upsetting the Bruins, finally losing in overtime.

Ken Bone’s best WSU team didn’t make it to the NCAA Tournament that season and that’s Thompson’s biggest regret.

The Cougars did, however, roll through the NIT – until the semifinals in New York, when Washington State fans discovered what everyone in America now knows: Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall can coach. The Cougars lost 75-44, Thompson’s last game in a WSU uniform.

Funny thing (and this is a cautionary tale for all of you who live and die by the recruiting news), Thompson would never have been in Pullman if another recruit hadn’t backed out of his commitment. 

The Cougars had promised all of their scholarships the year Thompson was coming out of Santa Margarita High in Southern California and though assistant coach Ben Johnson was high on Thompson’s potential, he wasn’t at the top of their list. But the shooting guard from the West Side who was, Mark McLaughlin, and who had committed on July 4, 2007, changed his mind.

Bennett and Johnson immediately moved in, made an offer to Thompson and the Cougars grabbed the best shooter the Pac-12 has produced in years. And the Cougars most high-profile NBA alum.

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WSU: So don’t miss Theo’s Q&A with Thompson. … The Cougars found their women’s basketball coach, dipping into the Big Sky ranks to hire Kamie Ethridge, who was at Northern Colorado. Jim Allen has the story. … There was a celebration of WSU grad Keith Jackson’s life at the Rose Bowl yesterday, with many in the Cougar and college football community turning out. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Utah is done with spring football while Oregon still has a week left. … In basketball news, Arizona now has two recruits.

Mariners: We have a couple of Out of Right Field items to pass along, both by Gene Warnick. The first is on Danny Hultzen, the former top draft pick that never made it to the M’s. The other concerns yesterday’s 2-1 loss to the Athletics and the end of Dee Gordon’s hitting streak. … The idea of baseball in Portland, as we wrote about this weekend, seems to be heating up. … The Mariners are worth a lot. … Hisashi Iwakuma may actually pitch for Seattle again. … Houston comes to town next.

Seahawks: The Hawks begin their offseason workouts today. Will Earl Thomas be around

Sounders: Seattle scored. And scored again. But a late goal by host Kansas City resulted in a 2-2 draw. … The Sounders had two brothers playing at the same time.

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• One of my favorite memories of my time in Pullman revolves around Klay Thompson. One night in the spring I wandered out to the intramural fields to watch Thompson, Charlie Enquist, Abe Lodwick and basketball manager Neil Stover (among others) play slowpitch softball. One of those four actually struck out – and it wasn’t the manager. It may have been an NBA-caliber athlete who has a brother in the major leagues, but I’m not confirming that. Until later … 


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