Klay was in the Rose City to visit some family and friends before returning to Pullman for the fall. During his stay, he popped into Jefferson High School to work out and play pick-up with some of the best talent the area has to offer.
The luminaries included Steve Blake of the Lakers, Channing Frye of the Suns, former Blazer and King Eme Udoku, former Atlanta Hawk Salim Stoudemire, former Pacer Fred Jones, former Golden State Warrior and Kansas Jayhawk Final Four star Aaron Miles, and former Gonzaga All-American and six-year NBA veteran Dan Dickau. In addition, there were a number of notable incoming college freshmen on hand.
I was there, but I didn't play. During a brief stint of motivation the week before, I began to seriously work out again to attempt what I deemed a "comeback." The goal was to be able to run up and down the court more than three trips without needing a sub. The inspiration lasted roughly 50 minutes before I sprained my ankle – while going one-on-one against one of my 8th grade players. Before Robbie Cowgill reads this and starts spreading rumors, no Rob, the youngster didn't hit me with a crossover.
Between bouts of icing the ankle it dawned on me that perhaps this was a good sign that I should hang up the sneakers for good.
As for Klay Thompson, he's a very long way from retiring from the game. Not with the way I saw him play in transition, defend, and command the game with his mid-range jumper. Following a silky smooth pull-up from the elbow, one current Pac-10 player turned to another on the bench and asked, "Did he go off on you guys too? That dude is wet!" (For those not up on slang, that translates to "That dude is excellent!")
"Naw, not really," the other player responded.
That's funny, I thought to myself. I remembered Klay having his way with that guy, too, a little earlier. Apparently, closing in on 30 points isn't considered "going off" these days. I'll keep the identity of the player confidential, but I made sure Klay got a quick recap of what I heard. In typical Klay fashion, he didn't offer much of a reaction. His game speaks loud enough for itself, and I've got a feeling he might have a treat for that team come January.
After watching Klay that day in Portland, several things jumped out to me about his development. In a pick-up-game setting, sometimes it's hard to make clear conclusions but I will say this: Klay competed on defense more than anyone else except perhaps Aaron Miles. As I mentioned earlier, he is stronger and refined. But more than anything, his shot selection appeared to improve drastically. That's a big deal. Klay averaged close to 20 points a game last season but he had some stretches when it seemed like he couldn't buy a bucket. To me, those cold spells were driven in part by taking shots he shouldn't. The improved judgment and discipline I saw in Portland has the potential to hold very good things for Klay specifically and the Cougs generally.
Perhaps the biggest compliment I could pay Klay after watching him compete in Portland was the way others on the court respected his talents. If you're a scrub playing with high-level guys, you may as well set up shop in the corner and grab some popcorn. Because the ball just isn't gonna come your way. But when you're playing with pros AND the ball is being fed to you, well, then there's a good chance they think you belong. Which was clearly the case.
Another interesting note was that Terrence Ross, the highly touted incoming freshman for the Dawgs, was at Jefferson High with us too. I'm not gonna lie – the kid is legit. But I mention him just to foreshadow a possible showdown between he and Klay on the wing this winter. Should be fun to watch.
AND SPEAKING OF FUN TO WATCH, here's what I'm most excited to see from the Cougs this season: Their chemistry in action. Every single one of the players that I have spoken to have raved about how tight-knit this group has become. In fact, it has been the first thing out of every single one of their mouths when asked about this upcoming season.
In early August, Abe Lodwick joined me on a trip to visit Taylor Rochestie in his hometown of Santa Barbara and in Scottsdale, where he trains in the off-season. If you want to watch intensity, watch Abe work out in the weight room. He turns into the Hulk. Even on "vacation," Abe practically had protein shakes I.V.'d into his arms and begged us each day to go back to the court and weight room. That's just the kind of player he is. But even though we all had a blast for that week, Abe couldn't stop talking about how much he wished the rest of the squad was down there training with him.
These guys are starting to miss each other on vacation! Consider that the best news to come across the ticker since Reggie Moore committed to the Cougs and here's why: When you care – no, when you love the players you play with, you play harder for them. And I'll be brutally honest: There were many times last winter when I was screaming at the Cougs to play harder. Compete! Why aren't you sprinting back in transition?! Not to say it was like that all the time, but there's no question a deeper bond will raise the intensity of their play across the board. I say that with confidence because I know that's what happened on our competitive teams from years in the past.
I'll have more to say about the Cougs in the upcoming weeks, but I'll close with a couple random thoughts you might find of interest:
First, Klay's brother, Michael (a senior at Pepperdine) is a fine player. In fact, I'd throw the Cougs in the mix of favorites to win the Pac-10 crown this year if he was wearing the crimson and gray with his little brother. He's not on Klay's level, but he's ultra-smooth and very athletic.
And second, that Klay is a bona fide celebrity in the Northwest. Players on my middle school-aged AAU teams still don't believe that I actually know him. One of those players, 6th grader Nate Turner (ironically, younger brother of the 8th grader that ended my career), joined me at Jefferson High to watch Klay, Dickau, Blake and the rest of those guys battle.
"Coach, am I really going to meet Klay?"
"Of course Nate. There he is!"
Klay strolled over to say what's up, and shook Nate's hand when I introduced them. After Nate cleaned up the liquid streaming down his leg, he looked wide-eyed at me.
"Coach, I just met Klay Thompson!"