Everyone seems to know Klay Thompson now.
Thompson is the Santa Margarita Catholic High School graduate who accomplished last week what no Orange County boys’ basketball player had ever done before.
He played a significant role in leading his team to an NBA championship.
Thompson is the starting shooting guard for the Golden State Warriors, who beat the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in the best-of-seven NBA finals. He averaged 15.8 points in the six games the Warriors needed to clinch their first title in 40 years.
Thompson seemed oh-so unlikely to play such a role when I first watched him play as a sophomore for Santa Margarita during the 2005-06 school year. He was genuinely average in every phase of the game, overshadowed by senior teammate Adam Keefe, who was headed to UCLA on a basketball scholarship, and even by his own brother, Mychel, who was also two years older.
Just as noticeable, Thompson didn’t play with any fire. In fact, he didn’t seem to be having much fun on the court.
As the son of a former NBA player, Thompson seemed aware that his identity would be attached to his father’s. He would be forever known as the middle son of Mychal Thompson, who played 14 years in the NBA, including his final five with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Unless, of course, he found a way to make a name for himself.
That began to happen after Keefe and Mychel moved on to college. Klay became the go-to guy for the Eagles, while his younger sibling, Trayce, assumed the role of little brother. Gradually, Klay’s appearance became more determined and his game more polished.
In the final game of his senior year, I sat courtside at ARCO Arena in Sacramento as Thompson sank a state championship record seven 3-pointers and scored 37 points to lead the Eagles to the win against hometown favorite Sacramento High.
Still, none of the big-time colleges on the West Coast expressed much interest in Thompson. They viewed him as one-dimensional, someone who excelled at the long-range shot but didn’t show much interest in driving to the basket or playing defense.
The only Pac-10 team that offered him a scholarship was Washington State.
Thompson signed with the Cougars and didn’t waste any time making other Pac-12 teams pay for their oversight.
He scored 28 points and made a freshman school record eight 3-pointers in a win against a ranked Arizona State team and later scored 15 points as the Cougars won a game at UCLA for the first time in five years.
His breakout season came as a sophomore, when he averaged a team-high 19.6 points and made first-team all-conference honors.
Following his junior year, in which he bumped his scoring average to 21.6 and led the conference with 98 3-pointers, Thompson entered the NBA draft, where he was the 11th overall pick in 2011. This past season he became a first-time NBA All-Star and did something no other player has done in NBA history, scoring 37 points in a single quarter.
It would be surprising if Thompson didn’t remain the same down-to-earth kid from South Orange County, who routinely skateboards around his parents’ Ladera Ranch neighborhood with his hat spun backwards, or takes part in heated ping pong games in the side yard with friends.
He’ll just be a lot more recognizable this off-season.