Up-and-coming forward Tristan Thompson, who spent his formative years in Brampton, Ontario, puts on for his whole country.
SLAM: Tell us a little about your hometown.
Tristan Thompson: I was born in Toronto, and then I moved to Brampton around the sixth grade. It wasn’t really until I moved to Brampton that I really started playing basketball. In Toronto I always played soccer—there was always a soccer team by us, so most of the kids played soccer. It was really when I moved to Brampton and all of my neighbors, they all had basketball nets. Having lived in an apartment, I never knew about portable basketball rims, or having [rims] on your garage or driveway. So I really just started making friends and picked up a basketball and started playing.
SLAM: You were into soccer? What position did you play?
TT: Midfield and goalie. For little leagues, some games I played goalie, or I’d play midfield, or I’d switch it up at halftime.
SLAM: Were you any good?
TT: Yeah! I was good. Until I started growing a little bit, then I started getting handballs, and that started problems.
SLAM: What position were you when you first got into hoops?
TT: I was a big man—I was taller than everyone else. I was playing center. I had one long sock, a headband, and an armband. I was all geared up.
SLAM: Who was your favorite team growing up?
TT: Probably the Raptors. Growing up, all of the Raptors games were on, so I watched guys like Antonio Davis, Vince Carter, T-Mac, Damon Stoudamire—all those guys. I knew my Raptors. Doug Christie!
SLAM: Did you have a favorite player?
TT: Vince Carter and Marcus Camby. I had those guys’ pictures on my wall. I had the Vinsanity posters, all the dunks he did in the dunk-offs, had the snapshots, so I was a big VC fan. I had his jersey, too.
SLAM: But you have a totally different game than Vince Carter. Is there anyone you modeled your game after as you were coming up?
TT: Chris Bosh. I watched a lot of Chris Bosh. And Camby—he was an athletic guy, too. Those two guys I watched a lot, and I was definitely a fan of theirs because they always dunked the ball, and as a little kid you just wanna dunk, so I definitely watched those two guys.
SLAM: You moved from Canada down to the States during high school. How tough was that decision?
TT: Oh, I was trying to convince my mom to do it for like two years. I was trying to do it as an eighth grader. But my mom, she was definitely scared. Losing her first born son, it’s definitely tough, especially to go to another country where you don’t know anybody, so it wasn’t until my ninth grade where she saw me play and dominate the competition, when she was like, ‘OK, it’s time for him to move on.’
SLAM: It must have been obvious that it was the smart move.
TT: Yeah, [but] I had to persuade her. I wrote papers, showed her stats, showed her YouTube clips of guys in the States in high school basketball, how it was so much different. And after that, she had faith in me.
SLAM: Your younger brother is playing high school ball now. Has he ever tried to take you one-on-one?
TT: Yeah, he says, ‘I’ll post you up, I could teach you a couple post moves.’ I’m like, ‘What! What is wrong with you?’ Kids these days, they think they know it all. So I’m like, OK, this summer we’ll get in some workouts, and see what you’re really made out of.
SLAM: Has he ever beaten you?
TT: I don’t recall, but he’d probably tell you he has. Maybe I was playing with one hand one day, and he probably beat me like that. But I don’t recall if I was playing serious with him.
SLAM: At what point in time did you realize you could really become an NBA player one day?
TT: I think it wasn’t until my sophomore year playing with Samardo [Samuels] and going to St. Benedict’s in New Jersey. We were always on ESPN and had the notoriety. That’s when I really thought I had a chance, because playing against Greg Monroe, Tyreke [Evans], Brandon Jennings, playing against all those guys in high school, and everyone’s talking about them being pros and I’m competing [against them], so I thought if I worked hard enough, I could be in that same boat.