Catching up with Howard 'Trey' Thompkins
Throughout the 2010-11 season, USA Basketball is talking to athletes who competed for the red, white and blue this past summer. We’re asking them to look back at their international experience, to talk about their current basketball season and to describe what they hope to achieve in the future. Check back often to read up on more USA Basketball athletes at usabasketball.com.
A 6-9 forward for the University of Georgia, Trey Thompkins has spent time the last two summers playing for USA Basketball, both in the U.S. and overseas. His first stint in a USA Basketball uniform came as a member of the 2009 USA U19 World Championship Team that posted a perfect, 9-0 record in New Zealand. Coached by Pitt’s Jamie Dixon, the U19 squad was the first U.S. team to capture the FIBA U19 World Championship gold medal since 1991, and Thompkins was a key part of that golden run. The USA’s second-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder averaged 10.6 ppg. and 5.0 rpg. on a well-balanced squad that saw its top five players average between 9.0 ppg. and 10.8 ppg.
After playing alongside some of the nation’s top young talent that included Duke’s Seth Curry, Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs, Northwestern’s John Shurna and Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor on the U19 squad, Thompson was invited back to be a part of the 2010 USA Select Team last summer. Comprised of top collegiate athletes, the USA Select Team traveled to Las Vegas for one goal: serve as a sparring partner for the USA World Championship Team hopefuls during their week-long training camp.
During that week, Thompkins was matched up against NBA stars such as Lamar Odom, Kevin Love and even eventual 2010 FIBA World Championship MVP Kevin Durant. Banging around in the post against seasoned veterans taught Thompkins what it takes to get to the next level.
He is currently averaging team-highs of 16.7 ppg. and 7.4 rpg. for the 16-6 Bulldogs that most recently earned an 81-72 overtime victory against conference foe Auburn. Thompkins scored 16 points in the win and in doing so, became just the ninth Bulldog to accumulate over 1,200 points and 600 rebounds in his career and the third to do so in just three seasons.
The 2010-11 Southeastern Conference Pre-Season Player of the Year held his own last summer against NBA players and is humble enough to know that he still has some areas of his game to work on before he gets to that level. Should he enter the NBA Draft this year, however, he’s a good bet to go in the first round.
And if he opts to stick around and play out his collegiate career? Not only would Georgia benefit, but there’s a good chance he’d be picked up by USA Basketball for the 2011 World University Games. Either way, someone as hard-working as Thompkins will make a difference, whatever his choice.
I know it’s been awhile, but do you still recall your reaction to being invited to be part of the USA Select Team?
I felt it was a blessing. I had participated (in USA Basketball) before, so I knew what the level of competition would be there. When they told me who I was going to be playing against, it made it so much sweeter.
As a member of the USA Select Team, you practiced with All-Americans and went up against the USA National Team, how much did that boost your confidence heading into your junior season?
It boosted it a lot. It helped me with some of the different things that I knew I had to work on, like defending the post and playing hard on every possession.
Similar to that, playing against NBA players and in front of NBA scouts, do you feel your experience last summer elevated your game and national recognition?
It definitely elevated my game, because I knew that if I could compete against that caliber of players, then I could compete against anybody in the country.
Who on the USA Select Team did you most enjoy playing with while in Las Vegas?
Scoop Jardine, probably Will Buford, Chris Wright, LaceDarius (Dunn), Kyle Singler, I already knew Nolan (Smith) from high school. Kemba (Walker) and I were friends already. Marcus Morris and I, we were close, Jacob Pullen … we had a great week.
After your first practice with the USA Select Team, you guys went up against the USA National Team. Can you describe what that was like?
At first when we were coming over, we were a little nervous. It took a couple shots for us to get right. But, we knew that we could compete, because we were good also. Even though they were pros, we knew we could keep up. They definitely taught us though, the difference in the speed of the game, and the difference in the intensity and physical presence that they had.
Were you surprised with the intensity with which they practiced?
Yeah, they practiced very hard. In college, we go hard. But at that level, that’s the top level, so they were a little bit tougher and a little bit stronger than we were.
Who were you guarding?
For the most part I was guarding Lamar Odom or Brooke Lopez, JaVale McGee, Kevin Love. At times I was also on Kevin Durant and Rudy Gay.
What was that like?
It was good. It was different. To guard the different types of players like that, it helped me defending and knowing that I can defend someone who is quicker than me or even someone who is my size and is strong, has a strong post presence.
What did you learn from that experience that has helped your game this season?
Playing defense and playing team ball. When you don’t have a cohesive unit on the floor, it’s never going to work.
What kind of questions did you get from your Georgia teammates after your stint with USA Basketball?
I mostly got questions about what we did after practice.
And what did you do after practice?
We hung out in the hotel. Some of the guys hung out with us down in the lobby. We went out to eat a few times.
What are some of your fondest memories of your time in Las Vegas, both on and off the court?
The time that we spent hanging out with each other, all us college guys, and the scrimmages that we had against the pros.
Did you follow the USA World Championship team in its gold medal run?
Yeah, I did. I caught as many games as I could. They were successful and I felt a part of it.
That’s true, in one of the meetings Coach K said that if the USA won the World Championship, the USA Select Team helped push the team to gold. Did that make you feel a little more sense of pride?
Definitely. I felt like I did as much for my country as I could, and it paid off.
The USA World Championship Team did something your U19 team did: win a gold medal for the first time in over a decade. It was 16 years for the USA at the World Championship and 18 years at the U19 World Championship. Because of that, could you get a sense of what they were feeling after winning gold?
Oh yeah. Not to that caliber or to that level, but I definitely understood the fight that they went through, the vigorous training and all the time that they spent together, getting to know each other and getting to know how to play with each other on the defensive and offensive end, and what it took to go to a foreign country and take care of business, being the only ones there and cheering for each other.
Where is your gold medal from the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship?
It’s at home. I have a lot of medals from over the years, and it hangs up by itself and the all the other medals hang up together. I have about 20 or so medals hanging in one spot and then that one hanging off to the side by itself.
What kind of advice would you give to young kids who want to someday represent their country like you have done?
To keep working, because it’s going to take a lot to get to that level. It’s going to take even more for you to represent your country, because it’s a really big deal.
Would you want to come back and play for USA Basketball again?
I would love to. If I had the chance, that would be a blessing.