SLAM: Tell us a little about your hometown.
Jason Thompson: I was raised in Mount Laurel, NJ. I was born in Cooper Hospital in Camden. Just raised around the East Coast—my mom’s from Willingboro, NJ, and my dad’s from Philly. Everyone knows everyone from South Jersey. Since there are no sports teams there, it’s known to [root for] Philly, so I grew up a Sixers fan, Eagles fan, Phillies fan.
SLAM: Did you have a favorite basketball player back then?
JT: Yeah, even though I didn’t get to watch him growing up, I was a big Dr. J fan, Sixers-wise. As I got older, I was an Allen Iverson fan. Just for him to be so productive as a scorer and to be so small, it showed the heart that he had and the talent that he had.
SLAM: Play any other sports as a kid?
JT: Oh yeah, I played tons. I played soccer. I played football with Pop Warner. Also did cross-country. I did track. I actually played soccer all the way through middle school.
SLAM: What position were you?
JT: I was a right striker.
SLAM: A goal scorer.
JT: A scorer, man, for sure.
SLAM: You had a crazy growth spurt in high school, right?
JT: Yeah, I grew nine inches in high school. I was 5-11 my freshman year, 6-3 my sophomore year, 6-6 my junior year and 6-8 my senior year.
SLAM: Was it tough to adapt your style of play to your changing height?
JT: It was kinda crazy ’cause I was always taller than my peers in grade school. I stopped growing in middle school and became the same height as them, but I still had big feet. So I was kind of off balance—I was falling on the floor, and I was like, Man, I hope I grow into my body. Then I started growing more, started changing sneakers, but I was still a guard during my first season in high school. And then my last two years I took those guard skills and had to establish a post game because I was the tallest guy on the team. So I just put it all together my last two years and in college.
SLAM: That’s kind of late to learn post moves.
JT: Yeah, it was, because I was coming off screens and breaking records by shooting three-pointers. Now all of a sudden, in my junior and senior year, I’m more worried about double-doubles rather than my first year, when I was like, I’m gonna make the most threes in school history or something like that. It was a tale of four years.
SLAM: Is there a specific place along the way that was really important to your development?
JT: Just the courts I played on outside. Growing up on the East Coast, it’s cold. But I remember going outside when it was freezing cold, and still getting shots up, just trying to practice my craft. Even though the weather wasn’t the best, I still tried to get exercise. I maybe used to lie to my parents a little bit saying I finished my homework just so I could play with the guys on the court a little bit and then finish when I get back. There was a court on my driveway, and then there was a court that everyone used to go to that was a couple blocks down the street. On that one you had the older guys, the adults, and we’d be going against them.
SLAM: Was it tough taking on the older guys like that?
JT: Yeah, but it ended up helping out. Over the years I always played up, so to go against guys like that—it just shows how much generations have changed. I go out there now and there’s no one out there. You hear echoes, and there’s weeds on the basketball court. I remember back then, if you lost a game you wouldn’t be able to play until tomorrow, so you’d have to get a big lineup. Nowadays there’s no one out there.
SLAM: Is there a specific jersey that you remember wearing a lot as a kid?
JT: Oh man, it’s actually fitting. The first authentic jersey that I ever got, my mother got me, and it was a Kings Chris Webber jersey. I’ll never forget, she left a pen inside the washing machine and it got ink all on it. And I loved that jersey so much—it had a uniqueness to it—I still wore it a couple times. Then to get drafted to the Kings was kind of fitting.