OAKLAND – After a prolonged shooting session Monday, Klay Thompson was the last of the Warriors starters to walk off the practice court. It’s not unusual. There are few things he enjoys more than seeing the ball go through the net.
He was that way before the Warriors were winners, that way eight years ago as a rookie and, according to Jerry DeBusk, that way when he was a teenager.
DeBusk, who coached Thompson at Santa Margarita High in Orange County, recalls a moment when every member of the team – and almost every student at the school – was preparing for a formal dance during the holidays. Upperclassmen lobbied for a morning practice and, once granted, sprinted out of the gym to get ready.
Not Klay. The sophomore stayed behind, by himself, to shoot.
“He didn’t go,” DeBusk says. “He said, ‘I’m going to go work out. I’m going to shoot and probably go home and play video games.’
‘I laugh at it because that was his mindset. I’m not going to a dance. I’ve got to get better.”
Thompson came around and become more sociable during his junior and senior years at Santa Margarita. But 11 years after graduation, his work ethic remains, as do the lessons learned under DeBusk.
DeBusk will be among the honorees this week at the “Coaching Corps Game Changer” awards show. The mission of Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards is to give professional athletes an opportunity to acknowledge coaches who have been influential to their success while also raising money and awareness for Coaching Corps, a nonprofit that provides youth in underserved areas access to trained coaches in a variety of sports
As the son of former NBA player Mychal Thompson, Klay and his brothers, Mychel and Trayce, were spared the trial by fire that often exists in those communities. With the Thompsons moving from the Portland suburb of Lake Oswego to Orange County in 2003, they were raised in the comforts of affluence, and DeBusk was quick to remind them.
“Being in South Orange County, kids can be very spoiled,” Thompson says. “So to be in there all the time and showing that we love the game, I think that’s what Jerry respected most about me, my eagerness to get better.”
DeBusk, who returned in 2012, would travel the country, to such schools as Duke and Notre Dame and Arizona to talk hoops with the various coaching staffs. When Thompson identifies DeBusk’s basic philosophies, they sound familiar, a lot like those of Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
“He preached ball movement, player movement, and team basketball in high school,” Thompson recalls. “Which was rare, because usually in high school if you have great talent you don’t really have to run plays or anything like that. But Jerry ran college sets. He ran real good stuff that allowed us to compete with some of the best teams in the nation.”
“Defensively, he was also on point as well, with his knowledge of the game and his ability to teach. He really took time to show us the ropes. I still get a lot of principles that I use now from back then.”
DeBusk coached all three of the Thompson boys and to this day appreciates the support he received from Mychal and Julie. It was clear that Klay’s shooting was his avenue to high-level basketball, but as college recruiters evaluated him there were questions about the other aspects of the game.
That persisted even after Klay signed a letter of intent to attend Washington State.
“I knew it annoyed him,” DeBusk says, “when I would say things like, ‘If you think you’re just going to go up there and stand around and shoot the 3-ball, you’re crazy, because if you can’t guard anybody, you won’t play.’ And he would give me that look, and I knew he didn’t like hearing what I’d just said, but he would turn around and walk away and I could hear him mumble under his breath: ‘I’ll defend. I can defend. And I’ll play.’
“And obviously he did, because he had a very nice career there. And look where he is now.”
Thompson is a three-time NBA champion, a four-time All-Star and an Olympic gold medalist.
He also has a CIF Division III state championship ring he earned – draining a then-record seven 3-pointers during a 37-point outburst in the title game – as a senior under DeBusk.
“He ran a tight program,” Thompson says. “He was no-nonsense, which you need as a teenager. And I just learned how to be coachable from the jump, from his tutelage. He was phenomenal.”
The Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards presented by Levi’s will air Sunday, Jan. 13, at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.