HARMELING: Do you really know how good KT is?

I IMAGINE IT DIDN'T take long for the Cougar Nation, as well as the rest of the Pac-10, to find out that Klay Thompson was a special player. However, I would argue that nobody found out sooner than me. Let's rewind to last summer. The much-heralded freshman class of '08 arrived on campus set to scrimmage the upperclassmen.

I had heard that Klay was a big-time talent. As luck would have it, I drew the task of guarding him in the very first pick-up game of the summer. Knowing that freshmen are always eager to prove their mettle, I had no intentions of letting a scrawny kid fresh out of high school get the best of me.

Then the first play of the game happened. Mike Harthun pulled up for a jumper, and as he released I turned to box-out Klay (Dick, if you're reading this I'm sure you have a pretty good sense of the result of what occurred next, in which case you can just skip ahead a few lines). Sure enough, I found Klay scraping his forehead on the rim as he threw down the rebound with a one-handed jam.

Thinking that three is always better than two, I thought the best course of action would be to respond by pouring in a beauty from way downtown ... which would have been great had it gone in. The long miss resulted in a long rebound, which was quickly out-letted to Klay. As I sprinted back in transition, I realized that I was the only defender, which left me one-on-one with Klay in the open court.

DAVEN HARMELING

As I picked him up at the 3-point line, he made a move that initially made me think he was going left -- wait, no, he's going right! -- only to find that he was actually giving me a friendly step back to set up his 26-foot jumper. Do I really need to tell you it went in?

Sometime between the ball going through the net and it hitting the ground, I realized a few things: 1) Klay Thompson is starting this year. Period. 2) Klay Thompson is the best freshman at WSU that I had ever seen. Period. 3) Klay Thompson will have the green light. Period.

I share that story for two reasons. First, while I know Cougar fans enjoyed watching Klay last season, I'm not sure they truly understood the exceptional caliber of this young kid playing in the shadow of Taylor Rochestie and Aron Baynes. The second reason for sharing the story is this: Klay Thompson is now a year wiser and better -- and he's going to be lighting up the scoreboard this season.

You read it here first -- starting this season, the Cougar Nation is going to be talking about this kid for a long, long time.

THERE'S MORE TO KLAY THAN just talent on the court, though. He has tremendous character and keeps his nose clean. Even though it may be hard to believe, he makes better decisions off the court than he does on it. Don't take this for granted. It is not often that a player this talented conducts himself in such an upright manner even though we have been spoiled in recent years with the likes of Weaver, Cowgill, and Low who all fit that mold.

I had the privilege of rooming with Klay on the road and there wasn't one night that passed without him asking me to tell stories about my early days, on and off the court, at WSU. Topics ranged from playing in front of 1,200 for a season opener (seems a bit thin compared to recent years!) to classic tales about current and former players and coaches.

To be fair, I should mention one thing about my former roomie that didn't always seem to add up. For a guy whose dad played in the NBA, it always seemed a bit ironic that when it came time to grab some snacks on the road, Klay miraculously NEVER had any money. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

But hey, in a few years when it's time to catch-up over dinner, I'm confident he'll be footing the tab. Just a hunch, but my guess is that his hoops career is going to be a bit longer and more successful than mine. In fact, there's no way I'm going to be reaching for my wallet.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daven Harmeling was a mainstay on the Washington State basketball team during the most successful three-year stretch in Cougar history. Part of Dick Bennett's stellar recruiting class of 2004, this Grand Junction, Colo., product completed his eligibility last season and now is in Vancouver, Wash., fulfilling student teaching requirements. He will be writing a regular column for Cougfan.com this season.

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