Moments after the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Summer League championship Monday night, someone handed Klay Thompson a white “Victory in Vegas” T-shirt.
Never mind that Thompson didn’t play in the summer league this year. He’s family, and he was entitled to celebrate with this year’s players, some of whom are his teammates during the regular season.
“I was happy for those guys,” Thompson said Tuesday following USA Basketball practice at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center. “We’re trying to change the culture with the Warriors, and when we went undefeated in last year’s summer league, it had a definite carry-over effect to the regular season. I hope what these guys did will have the same positive effect when we go to training camp” in October.
Thompson is hoping to impress the Team USA coaches during this week’s minicamp after he caught their eyes last summer as a member of the USA Select squad that scrimmaged the Olympic team daily during its Las Vegas training camp.
“It’s a huge honor to be part of this,” he said. “Practicing last year against the Olympic team was an amazing experience. It did so much for my confidence being out there with those guys. It’s made the transition to this year much easier. But it’s still very competitive out there. Everyone’s trying to make a positive impression.”
The 6-foot-7-inch, 23-year-old Thompson has what coach Mike Krzyzewski looks for in a national team player. He’s got a high basketball IQ. He can play multiple positions — either guarding a small forward or shooting over smaller guards in the backcourt. He comes from an organization in Golden State that is developing a winning culture.
And he has equity built up in USA Basketball. Prior to his participation with the Selects, Thompson played for the Under-19 team in 2009 that won the gold medal sat the world championships.
In his two NBA seasons with the Warriors, Thompson has averaged 14.8 points and shot 43 percent from the floor, 41 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and 85 percent from the foul line. Players who consistently can knock down shots and are reliable at the foul line are particularly coveted in international basketball, which features a shorter 3-point line than in the NBA and a physical brand of play that results in more free throws.
“I think my game fits the international style,” Thompson said. “It’s a more physical kind of game, but I enjoy it. And I think the fact I can play more than one position is a plus. I think I can help at the 1, 2 and 3.”
Krzyzewski usually doesn’t comment about individual players during training camp. But he said guys like Thompson, who have indoctrinated themselves within USA Basketball, seem to have a different comfort level.
“Over 20 of these guys here have participated in USA Basketball, and that’s what we love,” Krzyzewski said. “They’ve won gold medals and world championships, and we like to keep the pipeline flowing.”
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said he has been impressed by Thompson, and he said Thompson’s time with the national team program has a lot to do with it.
“You see a little more maturity each year,” Colangelo said. “He’s played well the first two days.”
Thompson, whose father, Mychal, played 12 NBA seasons and is a broadcaster with the Los Angeles Lakers, knows this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and he’s trying to embrace it.
“Being part of USA Basketball has been such a positive experience for me,” he said. “I’ve learned so much from guys like LeBron (James), Kobe (Bryant), Kevin Durant about preparation, about working hard. I’ve gotten better every year, and I’ve shown my strengths, and I’ve shown my weaknesses, and it’s made me a better player and person.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.