Rookie Tales: Tristan Thompson

October 31, 2013
Tristan Thompson

Tristan Thompson came into the league at a strange time for both the Cavaliers and the NBA.

Chosen with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 Draft, Thompson’s debut was put on hold by the NBA Lockout, which began eight days after he was drafted and pushed the start of the regular season to Christmas day, shortening his rookie campaign from 82 to 66 games.

The Cavaliers team that Thompson joined was coming off a terrible hangover. The squad had tied a professional sports record the previous season, dropping 26 straight games and losing 63 games overall (after winning 61 one year earlier).

Despite all the adversity, Thompson and his Draft classmate, Kyrie Irving, had successful rookie seasons. Both played in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Break in Orlando and named to the All-Rookie Second Team later that spring.

He began his freshman season behind Anderson Varejao, but not long after his 21st birthday, Thompson became a fixture in the starting lineup. Thompson finished 12th in scoring among all rookies; third overall in blocks. But on the boards, he was the freshman class’s top dog. His 3.1 offensive rebounds and 6.5 total rebounds each ranked first among all qualifying rookies.

Now, at just 22 years old and already having played in his third season opener, Thompson finds himself one of the leaders of the squad. He’s a righty these days, just one of the changes the Toronto native has undergone in three eventful years in the league.

In today’s installment of Rookie Tales, the native Torontonian talks about his frehman campaign in Cleveland ...

Were you nervous before your first season opener in 2011?

Tristan Thompson: Yeah, I was. But it was fun because I got to go against the Raptors, which was my hometown team. So it was fun and then once you get that first dunk or that first layup to go in, then it’s like everything else opens up. Then it becomes just time to go play.

I think the hardest basket to get is the first one of your rookie year. That first basket – it’s something, you’re kind of searching for it and it doesn’t drop. You just need a layup, you just something easy – a layup or a dunk. Just get the ball in the hole and break the ice.

In this year’s opener, you went up against your childhood idol, Kevin Garnett again. What was that like when you first arrived in the league? Did he talk trash?

Thompson: No, he didn’t say anything to me. He didn’t talk crap like how everyone says he does. Everyone says Garnett talks crap, but I never see it, so, I can’t speak about it.

But it was fun. And that’s when you know you’re really in the NBA – when you play against guys that you play in video games, you watch them on TV, you vote for them in the All-Star Game. So it’s kind of crazy that you’re on the court with them at the same time and you have to go against them.

Was there a veteran that took you under his wing when you were a rookie?

Thompson: It was Antawn Jamison. He and I had lockers beside each other in the arena and (Cleveland Clinic Courts). I really looked up to him a lot. He’s accomplished a lot in his time in the league, so I kind of gravitated to him. And he was playing ahead of me, so why not learn from the man ahead of you who’s had a successful career? Why not learn what made him so good?

What was the best advice that he gave you?

Thompson: Just, you know, stay consistent. In your rookie season, you’re going to have your ups and downs and you’re going to have games where you feel like, 'This is easy to me and I belong’ and you’re going to have some games where you’re like, ‘Damn, do I belong here?’ ‘Am I good enough?’ ‘Should I have stayed in school?’

So, the thing is to stay consistent and try to outwork everybody on the court. If you do that every night, good things will happen.

The Lockout kept you from working out with the team that summer and fall. What did you do before you came to Cleveland?

Thompson: During the lockout I took some classes at Texas just to kill some time while there was no basketball being played. So it was good. I worked out twice a day and then went to class. Basically, I continued my college regimen.

What rookie initiation did the veterans put you and Kyrie through back then?

Thompson: For us, it was just (picking up) the donuts.

But the thing was, with me and Kyrie – we were always doing everything right. We came on time, we worked hard every day. And we didn’t make little slip-ups or try to test the veterans in any way.

The rookies we had – Dion and Tyler – and, like, the ones we have now, they forgot donuts the other day. And once Tyler and Dion gave us expired donuts, so they pushed their luck and they learned the hard way.

Me and Kyrie came out and did what we were supposed to do. So it wasn’t as bad for us. We got the donuts and quick gas station runs here and there. The other guys get expired donuts. And that’s why Dion wound up with “popcorn car.”

After playing just 36 games in college, how physically tough was your rookie season – especially in the Lockout season with games jammed together?

Thompson: It was a little bit draining, but I’m so young and how I play, I have so much energy. So it didn’t hurt me too much.

It was exciting, I was able to go out there and play a lot of minutes because of the injuries and kind of really prove myself to the coaching staff and the organization as to who they drafted. So I played pretty well in the second half of my rookie year and just kept building on to that.

What advice do you now give to the incoming rookies?

Thompson: Like I said to A.B. (Anthony Bennett), the first basket is always the toughest. But as long as you can play hard and outwork the opponent that you’re matched up with, that’s all coach can ask for.

If you’re outworking him, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to score or get the rebounds that you want, but if you just outwork the guy and drain him out, make sure he doesn’t play well, then you’ve done your job.