Q+A: Tristan Thompson
Catching up with the Cavs rookie.
by Brendan Bowers / @StepienRules
After being selected this past June out of the University of Texas as a player relatively unknown to the majority of Cleveland Cavaliers fans prior to Draft night, Tristan Thompson has already emerged as a fan favorite during this young season almost as quickly as he elevates up off the hardwood.
The electric leaper from Toronto, Canada is proving to be a difference maker on both ends of the NBA floor so far, coming in off Byron Scott’s bench with the Cavs’ second unit. Early indications are that the Cavaliers will be rewarded for the fourth overall investment they spent on Thompson.
In his NBA debut he finished with 12 points and 5 rebounds in just 17 minutes against Toronto, and he followed that up with a 10-point, 4-rebound and 2-blocked shot performance in his first NBA win against Detroit. He’s shot a combined 64 percent from the floor in the process, and remained endlessly active defending the rim as well.
SLAMonline caught up with Tristan after practice on Thursday, just prior to the Cavaliers game against the Indiana Pacers on Friday night, and he talked about his initial experiences in the League so far.
SLAM: How does it feel for you now having played a couple NBA games, as compared to where you were a couple months ago wondering when and if this season was going to start? Does it feel like relief in some ways, excitement, a combination of both?
Tristan Thompson: Once I was drafted and we had the whole lockout situation, there was a lot of unknown as far as what was going to happen, so I guess I am relieved in some ways but I am also excited. A lot of people thought it was to a point where there almost wasn’t going to be a season, so to finally be able to realize my dream and play in an NBA game is definitely exciting. To play those first two games, to try to keep getting better in both games, it definitely gives me something positive that I’m looking forward to building on.
SLAM: You’ve been very effective in your first couple games so far, and you finished off your first NBA win with a game-high plus/minus of +18 in Detroit. In some ways, has the transition into the League come more naturally than maybe you thought it would?
TT: I think for me it’s just that my teammates have put me in a great position to do well. I’m playing with great guards like (Ramon) Sessions and Booby (Gibson), and having the veterans like ‘Tawn (Jamison) and Andy (Varejao) to help me get through this process has really been good. I just really have to tip my hat to them for preparing me for the NBA.
SLAM: Kyrie Irving has said that on lob passes he sees your whole hand up over the box on the backboard. Can you talk about exactly how high it is you can jump, can you make change off the top of that thing if you wanted too?
TT: (Laughs) Can I make change off the top of the backboard? I don’t know, but I think I’m pretty close. I can definitely touch the top of the square, that’s for sure. But I don’t know, I guess it’s just my jumping ability along with my long wing span which definitely helps me do that. Kyrie always says that if he throws up a lob he knows I’m definitely gonna catch it. But I’m just thankful to be athletically gifted by the grace of God, and I’m just trying to use that to my strength.
SLAM: Can you talk about how valuable it’s been for you, and Kyrie as well, to be able to come into this NBA process together on the same team?
TT: I think that we have an advantage over the other Rookies who are coming into the NBA this year because of that. First of all, me and Kyrie had a prior relationship before we were drafted, so having two friends being able to get drafted to the same team, and two guys who were able to be there for each other during the roller coaster of this past lockout, has definitely helped out a lot. And now, with Kyrie playing with the first team, and me coming in with the second team, we’re really able to come in and feed off each other’s energy when we’re out there playing.
SLAM: Is starting for you on your mind right now as a goal for this season personally, or are you just focused on trying to get better every night?
TT: No, my focus is clearly on winning basketball games for the Cavs and getting better everyday. I think those are the two most important things. Starting is just a position. At the end of the day, I’m a basketball player, and I’m a basketball player who just wants to win. So winning trumps everything, and getting better everyday is how I feel like I can help us do that. The whole starting or not starting doesn’t faze me at all because I just play basketball for the love of the game. Whenever Coach Scott wants to put me in, or whatever unit he wants to put me on, I know he’s going to make the right decision so I’m not worried about it.
SLAM: Who would you compare your game to if you had to pick a current or former NBA player? There was some discussion about that during the Detroit broadcast, and there didn’t seem to be a consensus specifically.
TT: To be honest that’s kind of difficult. I don’t really have a player in my head, I’d be interested to hear what other people thought. I’m just trying to do the best I can as an active guy. So I guess if I had to compare myself to somebody, I’d hope it’d be one of the more active post players in the League. I’m not sure I can give you a name exactly, but I’ll be curious to hear the names people end up throwing out there as the season goes on.
SLAM: Prior to finishing your High School career at Findlay Prep, you spent time playing alongside Samardo Samuels at St. Benedict’s in New Jersey. Have you thought about how ironic it sort of is that you’re making your NBA debut playing alongside a guy you played with as a tenth grader?
Tristan Thompson: It is ironic really. Especially when you think that Samardo goes undrafted, then the Cavs end up picking him up, and then the next year they draft his old teammate, that little Canadian kid, so it’s definitely ironic to be playing with an old teammate again. They say once you go to college you’ll never play with your high school teammates again, so being able to play with Samardo now is definitely bringing back memories of us playing High School basketball together. It’s been pretty fun.
SLAM: Your CAA advisor, Rich Paul, is from Cleveland and obviously knows the area well. Prior to you arriving there, can you talk about what Rich told you as far as what you can expect from Cleveland and its fans, and then what has your experience been like since you arrived?
TT: He told me the city of Cleveland, they love their sports here. They ride or die with their Browns, their Cavs, and their Indians, and that they just want to win. So he just told me to play hard, and the city will embrace you for that. That’s what they want, they just want hard working guys, and that’s my trait. Since I’ve been a Cavalier, I can say firsthand that the Cavs fans and the whole Cleveland fan base are just amazing. Once I was drafted, all the love I got through Twitter and all the social media and everything right away was just amazing. They are some of the greatest fans I’ve ever seen. They’ve been sending a lot of love, they are great down at the games, and I really appreciate the way they support the Cavaliers.
SLAM: Your natural athleticism alone, if you never really improved your game over the course of your career, would probably be enough to keep you in the League for a long time. How important is it for you though, to develop and work on the things that you need too in order to become a complete player, and maximize your ability?
TT: First and foremost, it’s a non-stop process for me. I’m not the type of guy who’s happy where I am, and I know there is a lot of room for me to grow. I see that. I know that I need to put the hours in to keep improving my skills, and to get stronger, learn the game more, and just really being a student, and that’s what I want to do. I’m not satisfied where I am right now. The player that you see now is not the player you are going to see two or three years from now. I don’t want to just be the same player. I want to improve, I want to get stronger, and I want to have more knowledge about the game. I definitely just want to keep improving and do everything I can to make myself into a complete player.
Brendan Bowers covers the NBA and lives in Cleveland, OH. You can follow him on Twitter @StepienRules.