Thompson Working to Shed Sideshow Label
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Give Sam Thompson an inch and he will take a mile.
Photo by Jim Davidson
That’s the type of player Thad Matta has in his sophomore wing out of Chicago. He has the best vertical leap on the team and, if there was a way to prove it, probably in the entire country.
He’s certainly in the conversation.
Ohio State point guards Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott have so much faith in Thompson’s leaping ability, they have resorted to just lobbing the ball in the general vicinity of the hoop.
Let Sam do the rest.
One of his dunks even sparked a debate between Craft and OSU forward Deshaun Thomas earlier this month.
“That was his best dunk,” Thomas said with conviction following Ohio State’s 26-point win over Nebraska in early January.
“He looked it, signed his name, and then…”
That particular dunk came on an alley-oop lob from Scott, who threw the ball behind Thompson’s head as he skied off the floor and nearly soared through the roof of Value City Arena.
The springy 6-7 forward reached back with both hands, his body fully extended in the air. He grabbed the ball behind his head, torqued his body back to the left and rocked the ball through the cylinder with both hands.
All without breaking a sweat.
“I’m going to be a little selfish here,” Craft said with a smile, interrupting his teammate.
“That was only good because Shannon threw an awful pass.”
It was all said in good fun, but Thompson has quickly developed a reputation as a human highlight reel. Every Ohio State fast break is a SportsCenter moment waiting to happen, but slam dunks, no matter how immaculate, still only count for two points.
“Obviously Sam is freakishly athletic, and that’s a huge asset, but they have to guard you first,” OSU assistant coach Chris Jent told The-Ozone.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“When they respect your jump shot, it makes you that much quicker and that much more athletic.”
Up until recently, there wasn’t much reason for any defender to respect Thompson’s jump shot. Before Saturday’s game at Penn State, the lanky sophomore had not scored double-figures in a game since December when he had a career-high 18 against UNC-Asheville.
Thompson was 3 of 10 from the floor in Ohio State’s loss to Kansas, 0 of 5 in a 19-point thumping at Illinois and just 1 of 2 for three points in the Buckeyes’ narrow loss to Michigan State in East Lansing.
But Saturday, when Deshaun Thomas was struggling to find his offensive touch for the first time all season, Thompson provided Ohio State with just enough of a spark at the offensive end.
“Sam was tremendous today. I really challenged Sam to play his best basketball,” OSU head coach Thad Matta said following his team’s 65-51 win over the Nittany Lions.
“From the standpoint of what he brought to the table today, I couldn't be happier for him.”
Thompson scored 16 points for the Buckeyes and grabbed six rebounds. It was the second highest scoring output of his collegiate career and easily his best Big Ten game as a Buckeye.
He was both efficient and effective, scoring those 16 points on 6 of 7 shooting from the floor. He knocked down both of his threes, hit both free throws and scored in a variety of different ways, including a breakaway dunk that was more substance than flair.
“With Sam, trying to make him quicker on his catches because of his ability to explode and get by people,” Jent added.
“Now what does he do when he gets to the paint? He used a little jump through, stuff like that where you get by that first tier of the defense. What do you do beyond that? How do you get around charges?”
Jent has been working constantly with Thompson on his offense after a rookie year where he shot 49 percent from the floor but went just 1 of 14 from behind the arc. They’ve worked on footwork, on ballhandling and finishing around the basket with something other than a dunk.
Most importantly, they’ve worked on correcting Thompson’s jump shot.
“It’s something he hadn’t had to do before, is be a jump shooter,” Jent said.
“It’s really a learning process, but as you move up in the ranks as far as basketball is concerned, you have to be capable and able to do more things and shooting is something he had to work on.”
According to Jent, Thompson’s jump shot was a mess last season. He swept the ball across his body from the left and his elbow was all over the place instead of under the basketball.
“His shot was more like a circular motion, rather than a straight line, which you want a shot to be,” said Jent, who worked with NBA superstar LeBron James on his shot.
“Elbow underneath the ball and shooting through the ball have always been a theme. He was also shooting on the way down and with his jump, that was counter productive with the how high he jumps.”
Despite his dunking ability, Thompson averaged only 2.1 points and 1.1 rebounds per game as a freshman last season in just over 10 minutes a night off the bench. He’s up to 24 minutes a game this season as Ohio State’s starting sophomore.
He’s averaging 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds this season, but his disappearing act in some of Ohio State’s biggest games have caused many to question whether he is giving the Buckeyes enough to justify LaQuinton Ross’ time on the bench.
Those murmurs should be a little softer after Saturday. At least until Tuesday night.
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