Vegas: Day Two

Drummond, Monroe have a fan in Georgetown legend Thompson

John Thompson
John Thompson talks to the USA Basketball Men's National Team during practice at Training Camp at the Mendenhall Center on July 23, 2013, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Andrew D. Bernstein (NBAE/Getty)

LAS VEGAS – It doesn’t matter how short you want to make the list of coaches who can speak with authority to the viability of a Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond frontcourt pairing, John Thompson is on it.

And the 1999 Hall of Fame inductee loves what he knows of the young Pistons big men and what he saw from them on day two of USA Basketball’s four-day minicamp here on Tuesday.

Thompson coached some of college basketball’s most dominant big men during his time at Georgetown – including Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning, the latter pair overlapping – and says he would have relished the chance to coach Monroe and Drummond.

“I think anybody would like to have a chance – you become a good coach if you have good players,” said Thompson, who was the U.S. national team coach for the 1988 Olympics. “I like the attitude of those guys, too. I think the two travel simultaneously together, their attitude as well as their ability to play. I like that. I like what’s going on.”

Thompson holds a special fondness for Monroe, recruited to Georgetown by son John Thompson III, and playfully patted Monroe on the head as he addressed the 28 Team USA hopefuls following practice at the invitation of national team coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“He’s one of our kids,” Thompson said. “I can’t say anything but good things about him. The thing I like about it, he’s just as good a person as he is a player. Greg is no-maintenance and he’s a kid that’s going to get better and better with time and work. I’ve loved the way the Pistons have handled him and he deserves it. A lot of times you see guys get better and you wonder in your own mind why the hell it happened. But he’s not one of those people.”

“That’s an everyday thing,” Monroe said of his interaction with Thompson. “When I was there, I would see him every day. Throughout the season, he talked to us a few times. I still see him when I’m back at school. You always listen to him, somebody of his stature who’s done so much for the game of basketball, who’s accomplished so much. You’re always going to listen to him.”

Neither Monroe nor Drummond are old enough to recall Georgetown’s heyday under Thompson, who stepped down in 1999. But his legacy still resonates with young players in large measure for the imprint his Hoyas stars left on the NBA.

“He was a great coach back in the day,” Drummond said. “For him to recognize me and share some of his knowledge with me really is a blessing. I took whatever he said to me – I’m a sponge, so I soaked it all into my game.”

Thompson was NBA teammates with the man who remains the gold standard of defensive dominance, Bill Russell, a phenomenal rebounder and shot-blocker who ran the floor and didn’t worry about getting his own offense. That’s a pretty good prototype for Drummond.

“He’s got a lot of upside and Gregory likes him a lot, too,” Thompson said. “As the team gets built and they go on, Drummond will allow Gregory to go outside and play a lot more, but the two of them can be inside banging. I think that’s good.”

Thompson doesn’t see any reason Monroe’s transition to power forward, accommodating Drummond’s ascension to the starting lineup, shouldn’t succeed.

“He’s very versatile,” Thompson said. “Drummond is a shot-blocker, rebounder, gets in the middle. Greg can pass the ball extremely well and that’s his asset. I was watching him play out here and he’s gotten more physical and I love that about him. I know he can hit the medium-range shot and he’s penetrating. I love the fact he was getting the ball and going strong to the basket, but the other thing about him that is really good is that he’s a good passer. He’s an excellent passer and that’s a lost art.”

Monroe and Drummond felt good about their second-day performances, both saying everyone seemed more settled and into the flow.

“As a group it was more fluid today,” Monroe said. “My team didn’t win as much as I would like, but overall it was just a better day. With so much talent, it’s always going to be competitive, so we’ve got to come in tomorrow and continue to play like we’ve been playing.”

“Today was a comfort thing for all of us,” Drummond said. “The scrimmages were more controlled. Everybody was playing to their strengths, so it was a great run today. I played to my strengths – grab rebounds, block shots and finish strong around the rim.”

“I don’t know if anybody else got the memo, but you might want to box him out,” Monroe laughed about Drummond’s eye-opening work on the offensive glass. “He was on the boards. That’s what he does. Every time somebody asked me about him, when he walks in the gym, he’s going to rebound. He did a great job today.”

“I don’t know if they read the scouting report during the season, but that’s pretty much what I do,” Drummond said. “I go after rebounds.”

USA Basketball won’t make any decisions about roster spots for next summer’s FIBA Basketball World Cup until after the 2013-14 NBA season concludes, in all likelihood. But both Monroe and Drummond are making strong pitches to be considered.

“There’s not a day I don’t see myself on the floor wearing a USA jersey, so today was a stepping stone, another level for me,” Drummond said. “Tomorrow, I’ve got to step it up and bring it to the next notch.”