Klay Thompson cracks a smile

PULLMAN -- Stone-faced, soft-spoken Klay Thompson generally shows all the emotion of a clam. It's just his way. His calm, cool manner serves him well on the basketball court. Off the court, though, even Thompson lets his guard down on occasion.

When a reporter recently informed Thompson that he was named the top NBA prospect in the Pac-10 by the well-respected Lindy's College Basketball magazine, Thompson made no attempt to hide his delight.

"Really? Wow. I can't believe that," the Washington State sophomore gushed.

Of course, the modest Thompson was quick to ask, "It means it's a down year?"

If the truth be told, the Pac-10 is expected to take a step backwards this season after sending a horde of players to the NBA the past two years. Thompson, however, would be a quality player in any college league. Anytime, anywhere.

Still, new Cougar coach Ken Bone is pushing Thompson to expand his game.

"I'm hoping he becomes more of a scorer than just a shooter," Bone said.

Care to explain, Coach?

"Instead of being a shooter and avoiding contact, now we're asking him at times to embrace that contact," Bone said. "Get to the line. Put the guy in foul trouble. He'll back off even more.

"There's a lot of advantages in being guarded by a guy that's in foul trouble, which doesn't always mean four fouls with 7 minutes to go. I mean, a guy can have two fouls with 15 to go in the first half. He's in foul trouble. Now he's either on the bench or he's guarding you but doesn't want to get close."

Bone describes Thompson as "a prolific shooter," but the coach said it's "unbelievable" that Thompson shot just 31 free throws in 33 games last season. Bone, like Tony Bennett before him, is encouraging Thompson to put the ball on the floor more frequently and drive to the basket.

"He'll get there," Bone said. "He's a great kid. He wants to be really good. I think it's more of a change in the mindset than anything else."

Thompson, the son of former NBA star Mychal Thompson, started every game last year and finished a close third in scoring on the Cougars behind then-seniors Taylor Rochestie and Aron Baynes. Thompson averaged 12.5 points and shot a team-high 41 percent from 3-point range.

Thompson started and played well on the U.S. team that won the World Under-19 Championships last summer in New Zealand. Thompson says he welcomes the pressure that comes with being The Big Man On Campus for a team with just one senior and no juniors.

"I'm excited," the 6-foot-6 wing said. "I want to get all-league, but most importantly, as a team I want to make postseason. Just like last year (an NIT appearance), if not better.

"It'll be exciting to face the team's best defender, hopefully. Obviously, I'll get better and it'll be fine."

Nikola Koprivica, WSU's lone senior, said Thompson has been impressive in preseason workouts.

"He looks good, like always," Koprivica said. "Klay is Klay. Hopefully, he stays healthy.

"We expect a lot of him. … I just hope the pressure doesn't get to him. He stays clear, focused. He's really smart guy. I think he'll do the right thing: Just focus on things that are ahead of you, just do what you do, and everything will come with that."

A big season by Thompson would seem to be essential if the young Cougars are going to better last season's 17-16 record. Lindy's picks WSU to repeat last year's seventh-place finish in the Pac-10, but Thompson wants more.

"The Pac-10 isn't as good as it has been the past few years, I don't think," Thompson said, "but there are some real good teams like Cal and Washington that are favored to win. Postseason play is definitely our main goal."

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