Thompson Keeps Feet on the Ground

Goliath set the standards for what life would be like for big guys. Win, baby, and win big. If Goliath had treated David the way John Madden treats barroom walls, no one would remember him.

He lost, though he was a reputed 9-feet tall, and so he is a part of folklore.

Society demands more of the giants among us, particularly the world of sports.

Wilt Chamberlain will be forever sensitive to the notion that Bill Russell was his superior, though Wilt was an awesome specimen towering above 7-feet and Russell was a mere sprig at perhaps 6-9.

Great height always seems to come with a flaw, real or perceived. Ralph Sampson was too skinny. Charles Barkley was too fat. Bill Walton had bad feet. Poor Kareem has a bald spot, though only Sampson could see it. I'll bet Paul Bunyan couldn't jump or go to his left.

Big guys must also bear an inordinate amount of pressure.

Tall guys will, for example, play basketball. Not a junior high school physical education instructor in the country will give a passing grade to a kid 6 inches taller than his classmates if the kid tells him, "No thanks, coach, I'm not interested in basketball. I'm going to be a sculptor."

"Listen, kid," the coach would say, "you are a sculpture. Get into your shorts."

Scott Thompson, the University of San Diego's 7-foot senior center, seems oblivious to the notion that fellas his size are under a special degree of pressure. He plays the game more like the biggest puppy in the litter than a Doberman among spaniels.

Maybe it has to do with his environment. USD is not star-oriented.

Indeed, though Thompson figured to be the dominant figure on the 1986-87 Torero team, the media guide has six players on the cover. All are seniors. Apparently, all seniors are equals.

"We're not a one-man show," Thompson explained. "We can't win with just me. Our team isn't like that. It'll never be a one-man show."

If a team is inclined to lose to Thompson, that's fine with USD.

Utah tried playing him one-on-one in the season opener. Thompson scored 31 points, his career high, and USD won, 60-57.

"I don't think Utah had a very good scouting report," Thompson said. "They played straight up."

No one since has attempted to employ one person against Thompson. Thus, USD has gone to its other--and preferred--option. It is winning with everybody.

"Everything's evenly distributed on this team," Thompson said. "We spread points around and we spread rebounds around and we play good defense. Everyone has to contribute."

It sounds trite, but it works. USD is 14-4 overall and 5-1 in the West Coast Athletic Conference going into games against Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine this week in the Toreros' Sports Center.

With success has come recognition. The team itself is firmly entrenched as the team in town. The last two home games were sellouts, even though the students were on Christmas break.

"That," Thompson said, "has never happened before. Part of it is that the community is getting behind us. It's getting so you see more about us than San Diego State. What are they? Something like 2-15?"

Recognition has come Thompson's way as well. It used to be that he would go to a movie and someone would say something clever like: "Oooh, do you play basketball?"

Now, folks are saying, "You're Scott Thompson, aren't you? How are you doing?"

Just fine, thank you. It's nice to be 7-feet tall and doing so well for a team that is doing so well.

With Scott Thompson, it does not seem likely that this appreciation for recognition ever will go over the line into what might be called a star syndrome. He may have his head in the clouds, but it is literal rather than figurative. His feet are firmly on the ground.

"We can't get caught up by things," Thompson said. "We have to keep things in perspective."

Thompson generally lapses into the first person plural. It is almost as if individuals cease to exist in such a team-oriented atmosphere. That would be an inaccurate generalization, however, because quintessential "team" play demands precise role-playing by individuals.

"It's always seemed like the tall guy is supposed to score the most points," he said, "but I try to do a little bit of everything. I'm not a pure scorer and I'm not a pure rebounder. I want to pass well, shoot my shot when it's there, get some rebounds and play defense. We mix it up so it's pretty even."

This would seem to be a case in which the star reflects the personality of the team, rather than vice versa . Thompson may think it presumptuous to say he is the star at USD, because it runs against the grain of what this basketball team is all about. Such a suggestion could be considered further perpetuation of that eternal myth.

You know, tall guys are special, or had better be, because they are tall.

In Scott Thompson's case, the myth has nothing to do with it. He is a big guy who does little things and thus becomes larger than the sum of his parts. And that's big.

David wouldn't beat this Goliath.

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