Draft Continues Big Summer <br>for Suns Rookie
Posted: June 29, 2005
Being selected in the NBA Draft is the moment of a lifetime for many players. However, it was not even the most exciting event of new Suns swingman Dijon Thompson’s month. The 6-7 California native graduated from UCLA on June 19 with a degree in history a little over a week before the Knicks took him with the 54th overall pick on Tuesday and traded him to the Suns.
“I think whatever happened with the draft, my parents were extremely proud of me,” Thompson told Suns.com on Wednesday. “They stressed education. They wanted me to get the degree and not have to go back, so they were extremely happy. Regardless of what happened with the league, they were going to be happy.
“Getting (acquired by) an organization like the Phoenix Suns is just icing on the cake as far as my accomplishments in the summer of 2005.”
New York drafted him for the Suns to complete the deal that brought veteran Kurt Thomas to Phoenix in exchange for Quentin Richardson. Initially intrigued by the prospect of reuniting with a former UCLA teammate with the Knicks, Thompson was thrilled with the news he would instead be coming to the Valley.
“The initial reaction was that I was going to playing with a former teammate, Trevor Ariza,” the All-Pac-10 selection said. “I was excited to have that opportunity. Then, when my agent told me that they traded me to the Suns, I got even happier because that meant I’d be closer to home. I didn’t have to travel across the country to go play, and it would give my family and friends a chance to make the six- or seven-hour drive to come watch me play.”
After withdrawing his name from draft consideration following his junior year last summer, Thompson returned to UCLA “a little hungrier” and led the Bruins back to the NCAA tournament after a two-year absence. Finishing his collegiate career as the school’s 19th all-time leading scorer and tied for fifth for three-point field goals made, he has no regrets about returning to finish what he started before moving onto the pro game.
Taking finals and attending the graduation ceremony were a breeze compared to the agony of watching the draft unfold. His family and friends gathered around the television anxiously waiting for his name to be called and after what seemed an eternity, the room exploded when NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik finally did just that.
“It was very nerve-racking,” admitted Thompson. “It was a pretty crazy draft and a lot of people were picked unexpectedly and some people were picked as expected. I was fortunate and blessed. I was very happy to hear my name called and that’s something I really wanted.”
Scouted as a solid long-range shooter with decent ball-handling skills for a big guard, one of Thompson’s biggest attributes is his ability to score. He lit up Arizona State for a career-high 39 points last season and finished fourth in Pac-10 scoring.
Excited about the opportunity to play in the Suns’ up-tempo, high-scoring system, Thompson is looking forward to learning the ropes from the club’s talented group and playing alongside the league’s Most Valuable Player in playmaker Steve Nash.
“I’m a rookie,” he said. “I’m going to be a sponge and try to soak up everything that they’re telling me. Most important, I’m going to be a good teammate. I can play with anyone on the floor. I’m a very humble guy and I’ll bring character to the team. I’m versatile and a good player. I’m going to be surrounded by some great players, the MVP of the league, so it’s going to be fun.
“It’s a great system and I’m coming in hoping that when he does pass the ball, because I know he is, I’ll be able to add about five more assists to his stats and help (Nash) get that MVP for a second year.”
While he won’t be coming up through the ranks with Ariza, as he originally had thought, there is one member of the Suns that Thompson has already looked to for guidance.
“Coming into college at UCLA I remember I met Jimmy Jackson and he kind of schooled me,” Thompson said with a chuckle. “As a kind of older brother, he mentored me for the summer. I’m ecstatic to be in the organization with him. He’s seen me from day one going into college playing pick-up ball. We were going at it and he could tell that I was going to be a good talent, so I’m happy to play with him.”
Receiving his college diploma one week, then getting drafted into the NBA and traded to a Western Conference Finals team with the league’s MVP and three All-Stars the next, it is hard to imagine what this intelligent and talented young man has in store for the month of July.