Bishop Montgomery's Stevie Thompson practices balance on the court

Bishop Montgomery's Stevie Thompson practices balance on the court
Bishop Montgomery brothers Stevie Thompson,left, and younger brother Ethan take a breather during a game. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

It was one of those games.

Shot after shot glanced off the rim. Even his signature move — the ever-reliable, sweeping left-handed layup — betrayed him.


But Stevie Thompson, though still in high school, is a veteran of tough games against talented opponents.

Held to six points in the first half in a recent game against a lineup that included a highly regarded junior guard, a 6-foot-11 center headed to Arizona State, and another player whose next stop will be UCLA, the wiry 6-4 guard never showed a hint of frustration.

Remaining confident and composed, Thompson exploded for 19 points in the final two quarters — and made seven of eight free throws in crunch time — as Torrance Bishop Montgomery High kept its record the next-best thing to perfect with a seven-point victory.

"I don't try to get too high or too low," Thompson explained afterward. "Try to keep it in the middle. When you're playing bad, staying even-keel keeps you calm and collected."

Stevie's voice, his father's mantra.

If the name sounds familiar, it's because Stephen Thompson Jr.'s father, also known as Stevie, was a catalyst on a couple of Los Angeles' best high school teams — units guided by legendary Crenshaw Coach Willie West in the 1980s. The Cougars won two state championships with Thompson Sr. in the lineup, before he went on to star at Syracuse and enjoy a professional career in the NBA and overseas.

"When things are going great," Thompson Sr. tells his boys, Stevie and Ethan, a sophomore who starts alongside his older brother, "you don't want to be over-the-top overjoyed. And when things are not going so great, you don't want to be too down on yourself or too low."

His sons know it as the "next shot, next shot," mentality. And it has proved to be good advice from a father who speaks from experience — and also as a coach.

Thompson Sr. was the head basketball coach at Cal State Los Angeles for nine seasons before moving to Oregon State last year as an assistant.

The change came at an awkward time — before his oldest boy's senior year in high school — so Thompson Sr. and his wife, Amy, decided the family would stay in Gardena while he moved up to Corvallis, Ore.

"This is the most difficult thing I've ever had to go through," Thompson Sr. said.

However, it won't be too long before there is at least a partial reunion between father and oldest son. Thompson Jr. has accepted a scholarship to play basketball for Oregon State next season.

"I may not be here with him now, but not many dads get to be with their son during their college career," Thompson Sr. said.

Meantime, the family has been able to get together when Thompson Sr. travels to the Los Angeles area to recruit, and when Oregon State visited UCLA and USC for Pac-12 Conference games last week.


The family was also together last summer, when Stevie, who has a 4.3 grade-point average, visited Corvallis on a recruiting trip and brought along Ethan and his mother.

Thompson Sr. acknowledged that there can be skeptics when a new assistant coach is brought in and his son happens to be a hot-shot recruit, but he says bringing along Stevie was not part of his employment deal. He says everyone in the family was impressed with Oregon State Coach Wayne Tinkle.

"They really loved what Coach Tinkle stood for as a human being as well as a coach," Thompson Sr. said, "so it was an easy situation for him to choose this school."

Next season, when they are together, will be a continuation of the guidance Thompson Jr. has received from his father all along. Thompson Sr. watches all of Bishop Montgomery's games, courtesy of videotapes that are sent to him.

Both boys receive his feedback.

"I will give them my evaluation, and sometimes it's a matter of just saying, 'Hey man, great game. Good job.'"

Stevie, who averages 25.3 points per game, had one of his biggest games of the season on a night in late January when his dad was in town and able to watch him play in person. He had 37 points in three quarters as Bishop Montgomery routed Los Angeles Loyola, 94-34.

And last week, while his father was a few miles away preparing Oregon State for a game against UCLA, Stevie scored 34 points to become Bishop Montgomery's career scoring leader. He surpassed Errick Craven, who was twice Southern Section co-player of the year (sharing the award with his twin brother, Derrick) before playing at USC from 2001-05.

Doug Mitchell, Bishop Montgomery's longtime basketball coach, has had several brother combinations play for him, but he says the Thompsons are unique. "A lot of brothers I've had are kind of a little bit competitive … I've never seen these guys like that. They're always so supportive of each other.

"Stevie's Ethan's biggest fan, and Ethan's Stevie's biggest fan."

Thompson Sr. agrees his boys are close — but not that they don't compete with each other.

When it comes to video games and one-on-one basketball, the father says, "You almost have to break them up because they're going at each other so hard."

Bishop Montgomery (26-1) is the top-seeded team in the Open Division of the Southern Section playoffs, but at this juncture in the season the boys know their time as teammates is coming to a close.

"I'm trying to cherish playing every single game with him," Ethan said of his brother.

Stevie wants to put off that last game together as long as possible as well. He also recalls a promise he made at the end of last season that is spurring him on.

"After we won the state title game and we went back in the locker room," he said, "we realized that we had most of the team coming back, [and we thought], 'We gotta do it again next year.'"