Interview: Dijon Thompson

The talented freshman swingman talks about playing against his high school coach, zone defense, and getting acclimated to college basketball and college life...

BRO had a chance to interview Dijon Thompson at last Friday's shootaround. Dijon is a 6-7 or 6-8 freshman swingman from Redondo Union High School. He made his first start as a Bruin on Saturday against UC-Irvine and finished with 14 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. For the season, Dijon is averaging 7.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.6 apg (2nd on the team) and 1.7 spg (1st on the team).

BRO: So, against Pepperdine, you were playing against your high school coach, Jim Nielsen. Was that weird?

Dijon: Not really. Well, a little.

BRO: Did you talk before the game?

Dijon: He wished me luck and said I should just go out and have a good game, play like I did in high school…

BRO: That could be interpreted two ways…

Dijon (laughing): Yeah. He meant I should just play my game, play with confidence.

BRO: What about after the game?

Dijon: We really didn't get a chance to talk afterward, he kind of disappeared. But I kept my eyes on him during the game.

BRO: Really?

Dijon: I wanted to see how he was reacting to what I was doing, checking out his expressions. Plus, when we were on offense on his side of the court, I could hear him yelling out to his guys, "Hey, he's a shooter, he can drive, don't let that guy go, get on him!" It was pretty funny.

BRO: What were some of the things Coach Nielsen taught you in high school?

Dijon: The fundamentals. He really helped me with my stance, how to stay low on the dribble so I could go up against smaller players, the right way to drive, power layups, everything. Really, just playing smart.

BRO: So, have you, Ced and Andre sort of formed a special relationship, sort of a team within a team?

Dijon: Definitely. We all took summer school together, moved into the dorms, so we became really close, really fast.

BRO: Do you know some of the high school juniors UCLA is recruiting that could be your future teammates?

Dijon: Definitely. Ced and I are going over to watch some recruits tonight (Friday). I know some of the guys and I talk to them sometimes. Three of the guys tell me they're coming to UCLA, that they're locked up. I know another that wants to come here really bad, too. I talked a lot to Hassan Adams, but he decided to go to Arizona. His loss.

BRO: Speaking of Ced, now that he's out, what's it like handling the point guard position?

Dijon: Well, to be honest about it, we're not handling the point guard position. Jason and I are playing it, but we're not point guards. I hope Ryan steps it up. And Ced will be back soon, he's walking around pretty good. I guess if we have time, we will be able to handle the position.

BRO: Now that you've had a taste of college basketball, what are some of the things you're going to work on this summer?

Dijon: I definitely need to put on weight, get stronger. And I just need to play smarter, get sharper at all aspects of the game, but physically and mentally.

BRO: Have the coaches told you something they want you to work on this year?

Dijon: They want me to shoot more. I've been holding back on a lot of open shots and focusing more on making plays for my teammates. I'm always thinking about making the pass first, so it's hard for me to focus on scoring, especially when you've got guys like Jason and Billy. But the coaches are telling me I have to take more of my open shots.

BRO: How is the shift to the zone working out?

Dijon: I think we're doing pretty well and we'll make a lot of progress in a short period of time. We always worked on the zone in practice anyway, so it's not like we're learning a new system. I played zone a lot in high school, so did a lot of the other guys, so it's something we're familiar with, though the matchup zone is harder than a regular zone. I play up top and also I will play one of the two wing spots on the zone. So, it's my responsibility to stay up on my man and put pressure on the ball, so in that respect it's not much different from man to man. But remembering to rotate defensively when you're off the ball, stepping back into the zone part and finding your proper space on the floor, that's the hardest thing for us to adjust too, we just need more time to practice it and we'll be fine.

BRO: How is the mood of the team right now? You lost to Pepperdine, had a tough game with Riverside and then killed Alabama…

Dijon: We're pretty anxious, actually. All of these injuries are throwing us off. Having Ced get hurt, that was a big blow. And he was hurt from the start, from the first exhibition game, and no one knew how bad it was, and we were all asking ourselves, "Who is that guy? That's not the Ced Bozeman we know." And Ced was getting anxious, too, though he doesn't show it, he was getting scared because he couldn't run or cut or jump like he was used to and he was thinking maybe he wasn't as good. And then Matt and Dan, those are our two leaders inside, and then they're hurt. And then Matt seemed to get better for Alabama, and then he comes down on Dan's foot in practice. Matt had twisted his ankle about 5 times this year, but you never heard him complain or make excuses, he just plays through it. But when he hit the floor, he was screaming in pain and they had to carry him off the floor, it was pretty scary. So, we're trying to focus on the games and stay positive, but to be honest, it's hard.

BRO: What about academics. Have you already picked out a major?

Dijon: No.

BRO: Are there any classes you like more than any others?

Dijon: I don't like any of my classes. They're freshman classes, stuff I studied in high school. I already know all this stuff. I thought college would be more interesting, but so far it's just the same old classes. Right now, I don't have any favorites. When I finally get to take an interesting class, I'll let you know.

BRO: Sounds fair. Thanks, Dijon. Good luck tomorrow.

Dijon: Thanks, Mr. Miller.

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