From the corner, Jason Thompson hit seven, eight … nine three-pointers in a row.
Tony Paris yelled over from a bench.
Thompson nodded. That wasn’t a compliment, just the next drill, a Larry Bird drill.
“Five in a row?” Thompson asked.
Thompson showed a couple of other players how the drill worked. “You slide over -- once I make five, then I go here. It’s a little bit of conditioning, a little bit of footwork.”
After starring at Rider, Thompson had been a first-round pick by the Sacramento Kings in 2008. He’d started 412 NBA games, averaged 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds one season for the Kings, played in the Eastern Conference Finals three years ago for the Toronto Raptors.
Maybe his NBA days are over, but Thompson was one of the first guys in the gym Wednesday morning at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, the same gym where Allen Iverson used to “practice” with the 76ers. This morning, the group gathering was preparing to play for Team Brotherly Love in The Basketball Tournament, a concept now in its sixth season, a single-elimination tournament, 64 teams, all playing for $2 million, winner takes all, title game Aug. 6 in Chicago.
Thompson played in TBT a couple of years ago, but he’s a newcomer to Team Brotherly Love, which reached the Sweet 16 last summer, led by a full assortment of Philly-area ballplayers such as Ramone Moore and Semaj Inge (Temple), Frantz Massenat and Samme Givens (Drexel) and Rodney Green (La Salle). All those guys are professionals playing overseas, have known each other for years. It makes sense to keep adding talent. This year, Thompson and Maurice Watson, a big man and a point guard, add to the talent pool.
“I met Jason when he was in middle school," said Paris, who put the TBT team together and coaches it. “He started playing for me when he was a freshman in high school in the summer, Burlington County.”
Watching Thompson now, maybe the startling trait is that shooting range. He only took 42 three-point shots in his NBA career. Now, he looks like he could live on the three-point line.
“From when I got to the NBA to the NBA now, it’s a totally different game," Thompson said. “When I got there, it was all post moves and mid-range [shots.] Now, you barely see that.”
Thompson was 6-foot-11 and always active. “I had that in my game," Thompson said of longer-range shots, but it wasn’t asked of him. Get low and be physical.
So the interesting thing is to see the long-range skill now even though Thompson doesn’t play in the league. The last three seasons, he has played two in China and one in Turkey. This past season, he played for the Sichuan Blue Whales.
“A lot of guys in China have NBA experience," Thompson said. “You only have two overseas players, usually a guard and a big. If you’re not skilled enough, you can’t survive and play. In Europe, you obviously have to win, but you can have 10 points and five rebounds. Most teams have like five imports. In China, you play 40 minutes a game. You have to be ready to score. It’s a scoring league.”
Last season, Thompson averaged 23 points and 15 rebounds. Turning 33 next week, he still looks in NBA shape.
“You’ve got to bring that fountain of youth," Thompson said. “I still feel good. I’m eating a little bit cleaner, trying to get more rest. I have to work out a little more. Most important, the recovery.”
This season, there is a little wrinkle in TBT, with teams that win each regional (advancing to the Final Eight) getting a small sum of money. Still winner-take-all, but the regional winners will get a little pot based on attendance and other factors. It might be $20,000 to $50,000, Paris said.
Team Brotherly Love will play the regional in Syracuse with its first game on July 26. The favorite will be Boeheim’s Army, a Syracuse alumni team that won last year’s Northeast Regional and includes Philadelphia’s Hakim Warrick. The teams playing in Syracuse avoid the four-time TBT champion, Overseas Elite, well stocked with overseas pros.
Another team with local connections, Team Hines, is the top seed in the Greensboro Regional. Kyle Hines, a Timber Creek High graduate, is a four-time Euroleague champion, now with CSKA Moskow. His team, stocked with Euroleague stars, includes former St. Joseph’s mainstay Isaiah Miles.
The whole concept works since these guys are usually playing somewhere for free in the summer, just staying in shape. Thompson left PCOM the other day and went over to the Palestra to get another workout in.
“Doing what I love to do," Thompson said when asked why he keeps doing it. He has earned over $35 million in this sport, probably already reached the heights of his career. “Having a dream to do this as a kid, and I continue to do so.”