A GRIP ON SPORTS • If you were up late last night, you might have seen the news. In a nod to modern times, Washington State athletic director Pat Chun made the announcement via Twitter at almost 11 p.m. The Cougars would be officially retiring Klay Thompson’s number. Read on.
• Thompson’s WSU career was a surprise. An accident, really. And yet he became the school’s third-leading scorer and its best-ever NBA player.
And now he becomes the second Cougar player – the first was Steve Puidokas who, when he graduated in 1977, was Washington State’s all-time leading scorer with 1,894 points – with his number retired.
Thompson may have worn No. 1 throughout his time in Pullman, but he wasn’t the Cougars’ No. 1 choice in 2007. In fact, by the time Tony Bennett decided he wanted the 6-foot-5 wing from Orange County, all his scholarships were committed elsewhere.
Then a miracle happened. Mark McLaughlin, a wing from the West Side who had committed in July the year before, decided he wanted to explore other options. He reopened his recruitment.
The decision freed a previously committed scholarship. A call (or four or five) was made, the deal sealed and Thompson headed north, changing his life, and Washington State’s basketball fortunes.
(In fact, to open a scholarship for Marcus Capers, who committed after Thompson, guard Taylor Rochestie gave up his and paid his own out-of-state tuition as a senior.)
Thompson was a key piece of Bennett’s last team, though, despite featuring longtime NBA player Aron Baynes and Rochestie, who is still playing well overseas, the Cougars didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. They suffered a first-round NIT loss at Saint Mary’s. Within weeks, Bennett left for Virginia.
Under Ken Bone, who loosened up the offensive reins, Thompson thrived, averaging more than 20 points a game his last two years.
But it was a game he didn’t appear in that may have cemented Thompson’s legacy among WSU students and most fans.
Late in his junior season, with the Cougars fighting for a hoped-for NCAA berth, he was pulled over by Pullman Police following a key win over USC. He was cited for marijuana possession. (Yes, it was still a crime then.)
Washington State suspended Thompson for the season finale against UCLA.
Before the game, however, Thompson addressed the crowd in a packed Beasley Coliseum. He stood near the WSU bench, a microphone in hand, thousands of eyes on him and apologized, telling the Cougar faithful “I let you down.”
Unless you knew Thompson back then and how much he hated public speaking, you don’t have any idea how hard that was. It may have been the toughest task he ever completed in an athletic venue.
The Cougars lost. In overtime. And they lost their next game, the Pac-10 Tournament opener, though Thompson scored a career-high-tying 43 points in the 89-87 last-second defeat to Washington.
The NCAA didn’t call. The Cougars headed to the NIT instead. And Thompson headed to the NBA, having scored 1,756 points in his WSU career.
Now his jersey will head to the Beasley rafters.
WSU: With the long-awaited – it was an open secret in Pullman Thompson’s number was going to be retired – announcement late last night, Theo Lawson scrambled and put together this story. … Theo had already written a story on former Washington State football player Robert Taylor’s AAF experience. … The baseball team lost at California. It’s been a long season for the Cougars, who have yet to win a conference game. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, it looks as if UCLA is back to ground zero with its basketball coach search. Jamie Dixon doesn’t look to be coming. … Oregon had its chances but couldn’t score down the stretch – All-American Sabrina Ionescu missed her last five shots by my count – and lost to Baylor in the national semifinals. … Washington's Matisse Thybulle won a national defensive award. … There is football news as well, with a couple stories from Utah and another couple from Washington as well as Arizona.
EWU: A former Eastern player, Jesse Hunt, is representing the Big Sky Conference in a national three-on-three tournament. Ryan Collingwood has all the particulars in this piece.
Idaho: The Vandals scrimmaged yesterday. Peter Harriman was there. He has the coverage.
Whitworth: If you didn’t know, and sorry to say I didn’t, the Pirates have a women’s lacrosse team. Dan Thompson knew and he wrote about the Whits’ inaugural season. Libby Kamrowski joined him in the endeavor and has this photo gallery.
Chiefs: Spokane second-round WHL playoff series begins tonight at Everett. Kevin Dudley has a preview of the tough series ahead.
Preps: Softball is underway and we can pass along a quick look at all the GSL schools and others in the area.
Mariners: We watched the M’s play yesterday. Every pitch. Our thoughts about how the game encapsulates the team you will see at least until summer will be featured in tomorrow’s paper. Until then, we pass along Gene Warnick’s thoughts in his Out of Right Field summary. … Defense and the bullpen were the weak links in a 10-8 loss at Chicago. … The bullpen can use all the help it can get.
• Watching the Oregon-Baylor game last night in the women’s Final Four, I realized once again how time flies by. Kim and I talked about our memories of watching Kim Mulkey direct Louisiana Tech’s offense to an AIAW title in 1981 and the first NCAA title in 1982 – I wrote a women’s sports column for The Orange County Register back then – and how much has changed since. She is trying to win her third title as a coach. And she has grandkids. Until later …
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