Growing Up ... Tristan Thompson

They’ve always had talent, but what were the Cavaliers like before they became rich and gigantic and famous?
Cavaliers rookie forward Tristan Thompson took a circuitous route to the NBA – from Jamaica to Canada to Cleveland. The 20-year-old forward has seen his minutes increase after a busy and successful All-Star Weekend in Orlando. Now, the high-flying freshman looks to cement his status in Coach Byron Scott’s rotation.

In today’s Growing Up, the fresh-faced former Longhorn talks about his parents’ athletic prowess, the love of the game he developed at the Air Canada Centre and his high school days with Samardo Samuels …

My parents were considered … pretty athletic. My dad, he always played soccer.

My dad … was the soccer player. He played in Jamaica a little bit and in Canada. And my mom, she’s tall for a woman – she’s like 6-2. Back in the day, she ran track and field in Jamaica, but nothing professional.

Between them … they played zero basketball.

I fell in love with basketball … just watching the Toronto Raptors play. Watching Marcus Camby, Damon Stoudamire.

To be honest … it was more my uncle – my mom’s brother – and my aunt who turned me on to hoops. He was more into basketball and he’d take me to Raptors games. And then my dad started taking me with him. And I started falling in love with the game.

We’d go to the … Sprite Zone at the Air Canada Centre. It was at the top, all the way in the nose-bleed seats – $2 a ticket. That was a treat. And that’s how it started.

I have three … younger brothers, no sisters.

Yes, they all … love the basketball. The 16-year-old goes to school in North Carolina, and he’s pretty good. He’s a 6-4 guard. The other one’s seven, a young kid, but he loves to play basketball. He plays with the ten-year-olds – so he plays up. And the other one’s five. He doesn’t play basketball yet, but he will. He’ll probably be the tallest one out of all of us.

I was always … the tallest kid in my class. But about since the fourth grade, I grew like two or three inches every year. It was like constant and it didn’t really slow down until I got into the 11th grade.

The only other sport I played … was soccer. That’s the first sport I played. I played up until 8th grade. After that I just concentrated on basketball.

My most influential coach … growing up was my first coach, Tony McIntire – whose wife actually went to high school with my mom when she first came from Jamaica. So that’s where the connection was.

He was great … for me and taught me so much about the game. I’d get up early and call him to come work me out. And he was my coach, too. So it was like I wanted to play and he wanted to work me out. So it was a good relationship.

I first started believing I could play professionally … I think when I moved to the United States and saw how serious basketball was and how good I was compared to everyone else. You just came from Canada and you’re top five in the country; you’re young and everyone says you can be a pro. That’s when I started thinking: if I work hard, the dream can come true.

That’s around the time … that I was playing on the team with Samardo Samuels in the 10th grade.

I thought Samardo could … go pro, too. He shot the threes in high school and he was really athletic. He used to kill Greg Monroe – he had like 20 and 15 against him.

Of course I remember … my first dunk. It was in the 9th grade, I was playing varsity and we were playing a terrible team.

First of all … the courts were slippery, so I was almost afraid to jump. But they found me on a fastbreak – I cherry-picked, I leaked out – and I just caught it, and went with a two-hand, two-feet dunk. That was the dunk I did for a while until I was able to one-hand it.

I got it and … I crushed it. Everyone went crazy. My second one was in the regional playoffs at my home gym, so everyone went crazy because no one dunked at all. No one was dunking like me and I got like five dunks in that game. It was great! I just racked ‘em up!