PULLMAN, Wash. — Once he learned what the word meant Tuesday night during a media session at the Chase Center, Klay Thompson said he actually appreciated the “doldrums” that occasionally came with attending college in a remote area like the Palouse.
“Doldrum?” Thompson said. “What’s the definition of that?”
“It’s just like boredom, basically,” a reporter responded.
“Oh, doldrums,” Thompson said. “Nice.”
Coming from a busy, bustling suburb of Los Angeles, Thompson, four days before he’s having his No. 1 jersey retired at Washington State, told reporters he enjoyed the calm and quiet of Pullman because it allowed him to center his focus on academics and athletics.
“I had a key to the gym,” Thompson said, “and that’s all I needed.”
On Saturday, at halftime of WSU’s 1:30 p.m. game against Oregon State, the Cougars will enshrine Thompson at Beasley Coliseum, in front of what athletic director Pat Chun anticipates could be a “sellout crowd,” or close to it.
The audience is expected to include a variety of Thompson’s former WSU teammates, current and former teammates with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors — including Stephen Curry and Zaza Pachulia — along with the player’s friends and family members.
Thompson hasn’t been active for the Warriors this season, rehabbing from an ACL he tore during the 2019 NBA Finals, and hadn’t spoken to reporters in a few months until Golden State’s media relations staff corralled the All-Star shooting guard to discuss his WSU celebration during the third quarter of Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks.
“That school and that city, they really brought a lot of pride … and they embrace the Cougs like none other, because that’s really all that’s out there in eastern Washington is Cougar pride and the Palouse,” he said. “Especially coming from Southern California, it’s nice to get away from the grid and the city.”
The Santa Margarita High (Calif.) product signed with WSU over offers from Notre Dame and Michigan, fulfilling a lifelong aspiration to play in the Pac-10. Thompson grew up not far from Oregon and Oregon State, in Lake Oswego, while his father played for the Portland Trail Blazers, and moved to USC/UCLA territory when his father moved to the Los Angeles Lakers after a short stint in San Antonio.
“There wasn’t much out (in Pullman), but I was just drawn to that because of the Pac-10 aspect obviously,” Thompson said. “Getting to play against schools that I worshipped growing up. And just being able to focus on basketball and academics. And a close-knit community, too. It’s very unique in Pullman how the majority of the population is your peers, that’s what I really appreciated too.”
And when all of your peers leave for holiday break?
“There were those tough days on Christmas break or Thanksgiving break or spring break when you’d be playing basketball and all the students would be going home,” Thompson said, “but it motivated you to work harder to improve your professional prospects.”
Last year, in a story from The Athletic, former WSU teammates and coaches told an “oral history” of Thompson’s time on the Palouse, explaining how the sharpshooter was addicted to the popular video game “Mario Kart” and occasionally passed time by stuffing fireworks into Clementine oranges and tossed them around Pullman.
Thompson was never tentative on the court, setting the school record for shot attempts by a freshman with 378 in 2009, while his 414 points were the second-most scored by a WSU rookie. Away from the gym, though, Thompson struggled socially when he first arrived at WSU.
“I didn’t really say much. I didn’t say much back then in general. I was a very shy, timid 18-year-old,” he said. “I remember we went bowling. The first frame I had I bowled a gutter ball. I think that’s when the guys thought I definitely wasn’t coming back, but I remember just thinking how beautiful the place was, especially coming from the Los Angeles area.”
His time in Pullman was well-spent. In three seasons, Thompson scored 1,756 points (3rd) and made 242 3-pointers (2nd), and it’s certain the three-time NBA champion would’ve shattered every major school scoring record had he not elected to leave WSU after his junior season.
But, as Thompson might reiterate a few times throughout his celebratory weekend in Pullman, he wouldn’t be the five-time NBA All-Star and future Hall of Famer he is now without three valuable years at Washington State.
“If I could go back and do it again, I’d choose Pullman again every day of the week,” he said. “It fit my personality perfectly and like I said before, I was able to make relationships that I still have to this day.”