2016 Olympics: Klay Thompson eager to face WSU teammates, Australia in Rio
RIO DE JANEIRO -- When the USA and Australia men’s hoops teams take the court on Wednesday night in Rio during group play of the 2016 Olympics, Pac-12 history could be made.
A total of five basketball players from schools within the Conference of Champions could compete in the same game, including three alums of the Washington State program, the most for any American university in Rio. USA's Klay Thompson said he's looking forward to facing ex-Cougar teammates Aron Baynes and Brock Motum. Other players with Pac-12 affiliations include American guard DeMar DeRozan (USC) and Aussie center Andrew Bogut (Utah).
Playing in his first Olympics, Thompson said he can't believe it's been nearly a decade since he stepped foot on campus in Pullman as a freshman.
"I’m not that old," Thompson said. "But, yeah, it’s crazy to think that it was eight years ago when I started and about six when I left. It’s wild and I couldn’t imagine being here. I’m here with two of my [WSU] teammates, Brock Motum and Aron Baynes. So, it’s going to be fun playing against them."
A photo posted by Klay Thompson (@klaythompson) on
While Thompson has carved out a role as one the best shooters in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors, he has struggled to find his stroke in Rio. Heading into Wednesday's contest, Thompson is a combined 1-for-11 in two games with Team USA.
Baynes, who has become a solid forward off the bench for the San Antonio Spurs, has also been a consistent starter in two games for the Boomers, averaging 12 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Bogut has also been a beast down low fort the Aussies, posting averages of 13.5 points and 8 boards per contest. Meanwhile, Motum has played in just two minutes so far in the Olympics.
Thompson shares connections with all four of the other Pac-12 players on the roster, as he also played with Bogut for four years on the Warriors and has been playing with DeRozan in Southern California since they were grade schoolers. DeRozan has come off the bench for Team USA thus far in Rio and been providing his trademark energy and scoring ability with 7 points per game.
A photo posted by DeMar DeRozan (@demar_derozan) on
"DeMar -- you kind of expected him to be at this level one day," Thompson said. "He’s dunking when he was 12 years old. Just happy for him. He’s one of the best wings in the game and he’s taking the Raptors to new heights. He loves basketball and he works on it like there’s no tomorrow. Proud of him."
DeRozan, 27, is from Compton, Calif., and Thompson, 26, grew up in Orange County. As part of the same high school class (2008), they began playing each other on the elite circuit as teenagers. Thompson's Santa Margarita High team also defeated DeRozan's Compton High in the 2008 California state playoffs.
"It seems like we’re always around each other with the history we have from one another," DeRozan said. "Especially from winning a gold medal in the World Games in 2014 to now being here and having the opportunity to win a gold medal at the Olympics. Everything we go through that’s new, it’s interesting."
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But now both players are donning the USA across their chests with the red, white and blue threads made infamous by the Dream Team when they were youngsters.
"It’s a great time," DeRozan said. "Just to be able to be a part of this opportunity and to be here, it’s amazing. The last couple of mornings I’ve woken up and I still can’t believe it that I’m actually here as part of the Olympics."
Though the USA has romped to expected big victories over China (119-62) and Venezuela (113-69), Wednesday's contest figures to be closer. Australia also features NBAers like Cleveland Cavalier Matthew Dellavadova and San Antonio Spur Patrick Mills.
"We don’t overlook anybody, honestly," DeRozan said. "We go out there and respect every single team we play, no matter who it is. We understand that they are all going to give us their best shot. ... We don’t have any room for error."