Ohio State men's basketball: Thompson’s dunks are 10s, but now he nails 3s

High-flying forward improves his game by working on shot

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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KYLE ROBERTSON | DISPATCH
Sophomore Sam Thompson routinely wows teammates and fans with his skywalking dunks, like this one against Iona in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Sam Thompson’s dunks make even his Ohio State teammates envious. And they can all dunk, too.

“I wish I had his athleticism,” Deshaun Thomas said. “My skills and his athleticism? Man, it’d have been crazy.”

Really crazy, or at least sounding like it, was what coach Thad Matta said a few weeks ago about the 6-foot-7, spring-loaded sophomore from Chicago.

“When he takes his shot seriously,” Matta said, “he can leave Ohio State as one of the greatest that ever played here.”

The crazy thing now is, Matta might be right.

A 24 percent shooter from three-point range through the first 17 games of the season, Thompson has shot 61 percent from beyond the arc since and become the Buckeyes’ most reliable perimeter threat as they head into a NCAA West Regional semifinal against Arizona on Thursday in Los Angeles.

A year ago, as a freshman who played a fraction more than 10 minutes a game off the bench, Thompson shot nearly 50 percent from the field. Rest assured, though, that much of his “field” was within the cylinder and headed straight down. Outside the three-point arc, he missed 13 of 14 attempts.

Entering this season, fans debated whether Thompson or fellow sophomore LaQuinton Ross and his silky shot would replace William Buford in the starting lineup. Given that defense and ball security break ties for Matta, Thompson won the job.

For half the season, the debate continued. Ross had his moments, such as nine points in 11 minutes at Duke, and 16 points in 23 minutes at Michigan, while Thompson hit and missed. He hit a lot of dunks and missed a lot from distance on a team sorely lacking perimeter shooters to stretch defenses and open driving lanes.

And then the tide, gradually and almost imperceptibly, began to change, as did the Buckeyes’ fortunes. They have won 10 games in a row.

“I think it was cumulative,” assistant coach Chris Jent said. “We shoot so much in the summer and spring. That’s (Matta’s) big deal. And we shoot a ton during practice, more than any team I’ve ever seen. … It just took a little bit of time.”

First came the fix. Jent, credited with improving LeBron James’ jump shot when they were with the Cleveland Cavaliers, adjusted Thompson’s after last season.

“I used to swing the ball from the left side of my body. My (shooting) elbow would be out,” Thompson said. “We really worked on keeping it in the ‘shot pocket,’ just bringing it straight up and keeping the elbow under the ball and really shooting through the ball. Just that little mechanical change has made a world of difference.”

Then came the work, and what Matta called taking it “seriously.” Thompson smiled when apprised of the comment, and acknowledged that while he has practiced his shot religiously, it hasn’t always been his top priority.

“Anytime I’m on a team, anytime anyone’s on a team, they have to find out what they can do to help that team win,” he said. It took him awhile to settle into his role on this team, and then awhile longer to be comfortable enough to expand it and begin focusing more on his shot, during and after practice and some nights on his own.

“I shoot more now,” Thompson said, “but more than that is just the mindset. Shooting every shot the same way, really making it a point to focus on the fundamentals and what we’ve done in the workouts. I’ve really taken my reps seriously … and the results are there right now.”

Through 35 games, Thompson is the only Ohio State player who has made 40 percent (40.4) of his three-point attempts.

“It’s kind of scary to think, if he continues to improve at this rate, how good he’ll be in a couple of years,” Jent said.

Maybe one of the greatest to play at Ohio State.

bbaptist@dispatch.com

@BBaptistHoops

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