Student of the Game

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At some point in his NBA career, the bright, articulate Tristan Thompson will likely be a student of the game.

Right now, the 20-year-old forward is just a student.

The Cavaliers rookie – taken No. 4 overall in last June’s Draft – is just finishing up a semester of college at the University of Texas. And when Training Camp opens in a few days, Thompson will begin his education in the NBA’s school of hard knocks.

Thompson’s major is Communications with an emphasis on broadcasting. One day, he hopes to be the guy analyzing young players like himself. “ESPN. TNT, NBATV – whatever they want me to do,” beamed the big man. “I’m ready.”

Thompson joined a handful of his new Cavs teammates at Cleveland Clinic Courts on Monday afternoon. While he’s battling on the hardwood, he’s still finishing up four classes from last semester – two African-American Studies courses, including one about minority and student leadership. The other two are U.S. Government and Speech and Broadcasting.

“Right now, it’s exam week, so in two of my classes, I did my exam ahead of time,” explained the native Canadian. “And two other classes I took with me and I have to email them to my teachers.”

Thompson comes to Cleveland as far under the radar as the No. 4 pick can.

The Draft’s top pick, Duke’s Kyrie Irving, will be arriving in Cleveland later this week. And he was preordained as the top pick for most of the previous college campaign. For Thompson, his selection three spots later surprised more than a few fans of the Wine and Gold.

“Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion – some people were glad that they picked me, some people wished they picked the Lithuanian kid,” smiled the 6-8, 225-pounder. “I just have to come in and play my game and hopefully win over the hearts that weren’t with Tristan Thompson.”

But it’s readily apparent that Thompson has no problem with Irving in the limelight.

“He’s the No. 1 pick and he outright deserved that spotlight on him,” said the fellow freshman. “He’s one of the faces of the franchise, you could say.”

Thompson, the eldest of four boys, might not get the ink his fellow Cavalier rookie gets, but his numbers were every bit as impressive in his single season of college ball.

He was Texas’ second-leading scorer and was named the squad’s MVP – averaging 13.1 points per game. In the 2010-11 season, Thompson led the Longhorns in rebounding (7.8 rpg), blocked shots (86) double-doubles (10) and field goal percentage (.546). He was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year.

After his fantastic freshman season at Texas, Thompson was eager for the opportunity to take his game to the next level.

“This is a dream of mine, to play in the NBA,” he asserted. “And having the opportunity to get drafted where I was, to come to the Cavaliers. You can’t turn that down.”

Thompson’s offseason education wasn’t limited to the books. He kept his body and his game sharp. And back in the Lone Star State, the young grasshopper learned a little from one of the game’s true masters.

“I was working out two times a day and also going up to San Antonio and working out with Tim Duncan and the Spurs guys in town,” said Thompson. “Also, Oklahoma City came down to the facility in Texas to work out. So a lot of pros have come down to Texas.

“It was a great experience – guarding Tim Duncan. He’s a Hall of Famer. Plus, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It gave me a good taste of what the NBA is about.”

With an abbreviated Training Camp, the sharp Cavs rookie knows that he’ll have to learn a lot in a short period of time – including Byron Scott’s version of the Princeton Offense.

“I’ve been playing for a top-notch coach like Rick Barnes, who also does a little bit of the Princeton offense and throws a lot at you,” said Thompson. “So I’ll be prepared. And if I need more time to study, just go home and read the playbook or watch some old film.”

Because he played just one season for the Longhorns, many basketball fans don’t know much about Tristan Thompson. So this season, it’s his turn to educate someone else. And he feels that Cavalier fans will learn what he’s all about.

“(I’m) just a guy who loves the game of basketball – goes 110 percent every game,” said Thompson, describing his game. “I’m a team player and I do whatever it takes to win – that’s what it’s all about. Winning trumps everything.”