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Kings rookie forward proving quick learner

The NBA normally invites 10 to 15 players who are expected to be lottery picks to attend the draft each year.

Jason Thompson wasn’t among that group June 26 in New York. But Sacramento thought enough of the 6-foot-11-inch, 250-pound forward from Rider University to draft him 12th overall.

The Kings need rebounding badly and think they have filled that need up front with Thompson.

"I knew I was good enough to be picked that high. They said they needed a rebounder. I can give them that, and I can shoot, too," said Thompson, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year last season after averaging 20.4 points and 12.1 rebounds as a senior.

Thompson had 17 points and nine rebounds Tuesday as Sacramento defeated Portland 75-74 in overtime in the NBA Summer League at Cox Pavilion.

Thompson scored the decisive points, converting a three-point play after hitting a runner along the right baseline while being fouled with 12.7 seconds left. That put the Kings up by one, and they held on to win when Jerryd Bayless missed a jumper in the key with two seconds remaining.

While Thompson was an unknown commodity to most casual basketball fans on draft night, Sacramento had been following him for more than a year.

It all started last summer in Las Vegas, where Thompson attended Pete Newell’s Big Man’s Camp at Cox Pavilion and Scotty Stirling, Sacramento’s director of scouting, saw him.

"He was athletic, had great hands and showed an ability to get to the block," Stirling said. "He could also run like a deer."

Stirling told Kings general manager Geoff Petrie about the Rider forward, and Petrie took it from there, following Thompson throughout his senior season.

But just to be sure, the Kings watched Thompson in a group workout in front of 10 NBA teams in Oakland, Calif., worked him out in Sacramento and had him meet coach Reggie Theus.

"We had a consensus among our group that he was the first big we’d look at," Petrie said. "He’s a power forward with three-man skills. He has a chance to be a nice multidimensional player for us."

A chance meeting at the Oakland Airport between Theus and Thompson cemented the coach’s support for drafting the Rider forward.

"We were on the security line together for 15 minutes. I got a chance to talk with him, and he was an engaging young man," Theus said. "He wasn’t a reach. There were a couple of teams right behind us who were ready to take him if we didn’t."

Thompson, 21, said his maturity will help him in the NBA.

"I think it gives me an advantage over the younger guys because I’ve been around longer and have learned a lot already," he said.

In his first summer league game, Thompson logged 12 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench in the Kings’ 93-86 victory over Toronto on Saturday.

He looked much more comfortable Tuesday in coming off the bench again to play 33 minutes.

"I don’t think the summer league’s going to overwhelm me," he said. "I’ve played against a lot of the other rookies before, and I know I can hold my own out here."

Said Theus: "He’s going to have to learn how to play all over again in the NBA. But he seems to be a fast learner, and I think he’ll be OK"

Thompson said he already has begun the process.

"The important thing is to learn as much as I can and get comfortable with the system so when we go to training camp (in October), I’m not falling behind."

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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