Two months ago Tristan Thompson was striding across the stage at the NBA draft in his custom charcoal suit, flashing the horns sign of the University of Texas along with a wide smile.
A lucrative contract, training camp and hopefully a strong rookie season with the Cleveland Cavaliers should have come next.
Instead, the 20-year-old from Brampton, Ont., finds himself back in Austin, getting ready for a full course-load of classes and practising with his former Longhorns teammates, living in limbo while the NBA labour dispute drags on.
“To be honest, it's a good thing and a bad thing,” Thompson said about the NBA lockout. “It's a bad thing that I'm not in Cleveland right now working out with the Cavaliers and getting ready for the season.
“But the good thing is that even though I'm not playing basketball, I'm still being productive, I'm working out with the Texas team, and continuing to get my education which is important because when it's all said and done, basketball can only do so much for you. You stop playing when you're around 35 so you've got another 60 more years to live, and I've got to do something. This education is going to help me.”
The six-foot-nine, 230-pound forward became Canada's highest NBA draft pick in almost 60 years when the Cavaliers nabbed him with their No. 4 pick. That topped Steve Nash's 15th overall selection in 1996. Bob Houbregs of Vancouver was taken second overall by the Milwaukee Hawks in 1953.
The lofty selection came after Thompson averaged 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds in his one season in the NCAA, leading the Longhorns to the third round of the March Madness tournament where they were ousted in a one-point loss to Arizona.
But his NBA career has been put on the backburner with no end to the labour dispute in sight, swapping his playbook for textbooks.
“My mom (Andrea) told me if you're going to leave school to go to the draft, and there is a lockout, I need you to go back to school and continue on with your degree,” Thompson said in a phone interview from Austin. “I was all for it. You can't say no to your mom.”
He's working toward a communications degree, and hopes to get into sports broadcasting.
Thompson is also working as a student assistant with the Longhorns, which allows him a chance to train regularly with the team at the Frank Erwin Center gym he knows so well.
He hasn't seen much of his new Cavaliers teammates, including fellow rookie Kyrie Irving, who was taken first overall, and communication with team staff isn't permitted.
“Everybody is training in their own spots, if you look at our team we've got a lot of international guys so a lot of guys are doing the international situation. You can't talk to coaches or GMs or anybody like that so really especially being a rookie, we're out of the loop,” he said.
Thompson opted not to go the international route, turning down an invitation to play for Canada at the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament that begins next week in Argentina.
“I'm a man of my word, I gave my commitment (to his mom) first of going back to school so unfortunately it conflicted with the whole team Canada qualifying,” Thompson said. “I hope the guys do well down there, and hopefully if they qualify for the Olympics, there's a spot for me if schedules don't conflict.”
Thompson's friend and former Texas teammate Cory Joseph, drafted 29th overall by the San Antonio Spurs, took a different route, opting to play for Canada this summer.
The NBA lockout, nearing the end of its second month, marks the league's first work stoppage since the 1998-99 season was reduced by 32 games to 50.
Among other events, the lockout forced the cancellation of the rookie transition program which helps ease the transition to the pros for first-year players.
Under the old collective bargaining agreement, Thompson would earn about US$3.2 million in his rookie season, but he has yet to collect an NBA paycheque. He'll eventually be part of the Cavaliers' rebuilding process that comes after the departure of LeBron James last off-season followed by a 63-loss season.
He said he wouldn't be surprised by a January start to the season.
Until then, he'll have his nose in the books while trying to remain physically ready for a season that could tip-off at any time.
“If basketball starts in January it's really probably no training camp, or if there it, it will probably be a week,” he said. “The ball drops and you've got to be ready to produce so that's why I'm here being prepared for whenever basketball does start up.”
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