Born to Play
Senior forward Mychel Thompson shoots to win.
The moment Mychel Thompson's final jump shot skimmed the rim and spun into the basket at Firestone Fieldhouse this spring, he placed among the most prolific basketball players in Waves history. His list of accomplishments includes 114 career starts in 128 games played—the highest total in Pepperdine history—and a career-high 14.6 points per game. He became the Waves' 36th elite 1,000-point scorer and ended his career with over 1,400 total points—No. 14 all-time at Pepperdine.
Long before many children his age could form complete sentences, 2-year-old Thompson was handling a basketball with both hands, running and dribbling with great dexterity. Back then his teammates were younger brothers Klay and Trayce, now the Pac-10 leader in scoring-per-game for the Washington State Cougars and Chicago White Sox second-round minor league draft pick, respectively. Home court was their driveway in Portland, Oregon, where father Mychal would play referee and make his three boys work for the points.
“Mychel hated losing,” reminisces his father, who boasts a noteworthy resume of his own. The elder Thompson was overall pick of the 1978 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers and went on to win two NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. He is currently the Lakers radio color commentator. As a youngster, “When Mychel would start losing, he would quit and go inside the house and ruin the game for everybody."
These days, however, Thompson is the epitome of cool, effortlessly sinking baskets and acting as a stronghold for the rest of his team. “I try to lead by example,” says the student-athlete. “I’ll motivate the other players if they’re down and try to boost them up by telling them to keep doing what they’re doing.”
Thompson has maintained the same composure through his team’s changes in recent years. As a freshman player in 2007, Thompson weathered the departure of then head coach Vance Walberg and a handful of fellow players. “We had a pretty good recruiting class and I wanted to come in with those players, but they all left. I stayed because I was committed to the school and wanted to play on the team.”
Thompson’s perseverance led him to become one of the top players on the team and well-admired by Waves head coach Tom Asbury. “Some players get here and don’t really improve, but Mychel practices hard everyday and has made huge contributions to the team,” Asbury says, commending his ability to do “a little bit of everything from defending, rebounding, and getting on the floor for loose balls.”
This season Thompson’s father had a special bird’s-eye view of his son in action, when he served as analyst on the Prime Ticket broadcast for a Pepperdine home game against Saint Mary’s. “I felt like a physician operating on his own kid,” he remembers. And although the Gaels defeated the Waves that night, Mychal was waiting on the sidelines ready to give sage advice. “He always tells me to play like there’s no tomorrow, appreciate every minute I spend on the court, and be more aggressive,” says Thompson.
Whether tomorrow brings a journey to the NBA or to a more traditional career, Thompson knows his passion for basketball will remain for years to come. “I was definitely influenced by my dad’s career,” he says, “but I love basketball. I was meant to play it.”
Forward Gus Clardy is another record-setting senior making waves for the men’s basketball team both on the court and in the classroom. Read his story »