Re­turn­ing home to hero’s wel­come

NBA All-Star guard’s jer­sey re­tired at high school where his leg­end be­gan

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - SPORTING GREEN - By Con­nor Le­tourneau

RAN­CHO SANTA MAR­GARITA, Orange County — One evening in the late fall of 2004, Klay Thomp­son was zon­ing out at the fam­ily din­ner ta­ble.

His fa­ther, for­mer NBA player My­chal Thomp­son, sensed some­thing was wrong. With a lit­tle prod­ding, he learned that Klay — then a spindly 14-year-old at Santa Mar­garita Catholic High School — had been rel­e­gated to the Ea­gles’ fresh­man bas­ket­ball team.

“Even as a fresh­man, he thought he should be on the var­sity and thought he could start on the var­sity,” the el­der Thomp­son re­called. “I just told him to be pa­tient. His time was go­ing to come.”

Fri­day af­ter­noon, in front of a crowd of more than 1,800 at his old gym­na­sium, Klay Thomp­son be­came the first bas­ket­ball player in Ea­gles his­tory to have his jer­sey re­tired. It was an elab-

orate event for the school’s most fa­mous alum: stream­ers fall­ing from the rafters, four Jum­botrons mounted to each wall play­ing Thomp­son’s War­riors high­lights, cheer­lead­ers with pom-poms lined up pep-rally style.

When Thomp­son stepped onto the stage wear­ing his 2008 CIF Divi­sion III state cham­pi­onship ring, the two-time NBA All-Star saw 13 of his high school team­mates, nu­mer­ous for­mer teach­ers and the head coach who pushed him to be more than just a spot-up shooter. It was an ideal way to spend an off day for some­one who has made a point not to for­get all who con­trib­uted to his suc­cess.

“This is where I planted a lot of my roots,” Thomp­son said. “I owe Santa Mar­garita big-time for what they’ve done for me.”

His is the gift of good genes: a fa­ther who was the No. 1 pick of the 1978 NBA draft and won three cham­pi­onships with the “Showtime” Lakers; a mother, Julie, who was a stand­out vol­ley­ball player at USF. When Klay was 8, My­chal told Julie that their mid­dle son would “play in the league some­day.” Klay, a third-grader at the time, was al­ready hit­ting NBA-range three­p­oint­ers.

But be­com­ing one of the top 20 play­ers in the world re­quires more than prodi­gious tal­ent. It was at Santa Mar­garita Catholic, a pic­turesque 42-acre cam­pus in one of Orange County’s most af­flu­ent neigh­bor­hoods, that Thomp­son set the foun­da­tion for his record-set­ting ca­reer.

Shortly af­ter mov­ing with his fam­ily from Lake Oswego, Ore., Thomp­son played fresh­man foot­ball at Santa Mar­garita Catholic to get to know his new class­mates. By the time he was free to try out for the bas­ket­ball team, prac­tices had al­ready started.

Jerry DeBusk, the Ea­gles’ long­time var­sity coach, boasted a stacked ros­ter. Care­ful not to rush Thomp­son’s de­vel­op­ment, DeBusk placed him on the fresh­man team. It was fuel for a player whose com­pet­i­tive­ness be­lied his in­tro­verted na­ture.

“When he came in as a sopho­more,” DeBusk said, “we could see he had re­ally ad­vanced. He could ab­so­lutely drill it.”

The more Thomp­son played on var­sity, the more com­fort­able he be­came. The same teenager who sub­sisted on twoword sen­tences as a fresh­man was di­rect­ing the of­fense as a part-time point guard by his ju­nior year.

Though Thomp­son was al­ready an elite shooter, DeBusk stressed the im­por­tance of de­fense and play­mak­ing abil­ity. It was Thomp­son’s knack for thriv­ing in big games that con­vinced point guard Ja­son Pan­coe that he was fa­cil­i­tat­ing for a fu­ture NBA player. The Divi­sion III State Player of the Year as a se­nior, Thomp­son hit a record seven three-point­ers to score 37 points in the 2008 state cham­pi­onship game.

“It was so fun to be able to just get him the ball and take pride in be­ing a good passer,” said Pan­coe, echo­ing a sen­ti­ment Stephen Curry knows well. “Be­cause if you put it right where you needed to, he was knock­ing them down.”

Nine years re­moved from his days as the Ea­gles’ rail-thin sharp­shooter, Thomp­son is a re­li­able perime­ter de­fender who has per­fected the art of catch-and-shoot op­por­tu­ni­ties. He needed only 88.4 sec­onds of pos­ses­sion, 52 touches, 33 shots, 11 drib­bles and 29 min­utes to score 60 points in a Dec. 5 rout of In­di­ana. In his se­cond year of a four-year, $70 mil­lion deal, Thomp­son owns the NBA record for three-point­ers made in a quar­ter (nine) and the play­off record for threes in a game (11).

At Santa Mar­garita Catholic, he is the stan­dard-bearer for ev­ery as­pir­ing bas­ket­ball player. Nancy Keane, who taught Thomp­son in English and film classes, knows the best way to gain in­stant cred­i­bil­ity with her stu­dents is to tell a Klay story.

“Brag­ging rights,” Keane, who is still Face­book friends with Thomp­son, said with a chuckle.

“It’s just crazy to think an NBA cham­pion went to our school,” said Adrease Jack­son, a se­nior for­ward who has com­mit­ted to play for Dart­mouth. “It’s just crazy to think we can ac­tu­ally be like him one day.”

Af­ter the video mon­tage, af­ter the jer­sey re­tire­ment, the man who was once too shy to raise his hand in Keane’s class spoke to a packed gym for four full min­utes. His mes­sage: If he can reach the top of his cho­sen field, so can any of Santa Mar­garita Catholic’s 1,655 stu­dents.

“I started on the fresh­man team,” Thomp­son said. “Any­thing’s pos­si­ble.”

Pho­tos by Stu­art Pal­ley / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Klay Thomp­son is cheered by a gym full of fans at Santa Mar­garita Catholic High School, where his jer­sey, be­low, was re­tired.

Stu­art Pal­ley / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Klay Thomp­son makes brief re­marks dur­ing the re­tire­ment cer­e­mony for his high school jer­sey.

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