Originally, this article was planned out to be just about former first round picks from the Big Ten. So, I did the necessary research, and after looking through it all, this article needed to be tweaked. Rather than talking about the first round talent that the Big Ten produces, there needs to be awareness that the Big Ten has had nine players selected with the first overall pick.
So, instead of talking about the greatness of players like Kevin McHale, Deron Williams, and the players that became great coaches like Don Nelson and Mike Woodson, the focus turned to the healthy dose of number one fever.
Draft day is looming, and the Big Ten will not make it an even 10 for the list, but let’s look back at all the former number one picks. It’s been 50 years exactly since the first time a Big Ten player was selected with the first pick, with Walt Bellamy from the University of Indiana. In 1980, three of the first four picks were produced from the Big Ten. There was also a four-year stretch where the Big Ten produced the first pick.
But there is one player from that list of nine that sticks out in my opinion, and his name is Mychal Thompson.
The native of the Bahamas was born in 1955 and moved to the United States when he was a child to Miami. After high school, Thompson did a complete 180 in terms of weather. He got a scholarship to play for the University of Minnesota and accepted it.
The 6’10" center was dominant in his time in the Big Ten. He broke multiple records during his time and was a part of a frontcourt duo that also consisted of Kevin McHale. Of course, this wasn’t the cleanest of times at the U of M. Head coach Bill Musselman admitted that he gave players money for rent and transportation. It has said that Musselman broke over 100 rule violations during his coaching tenure at Minnesota.
Still, it’s very impressive to think that the Golden Gophers once heralded a tandem in the paint of Thompson and McHale for two seasons.
After his senior season, Thompson knew that his next destination would be in the NBA. With the first pick of the 1978 NBA draft, the Portland Trail Blazers selected Thompson. He became the first foreign-born player to be selected first overall. He spent his first eight seasons with Portland, including a 1982 season where he averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds a game. Following the 1985-1986 season, he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs, where he spent a single season.
Thompson finished his career with the Lakers. He played there for four seasons when the Lakers had four former number one overall picks on their team; that list included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and James Worthy. Thompson was the only one of the four that didn’t make it into the NBA Hall of Fame. The reason why the Lakers traded for Thompson is ironic. He was traded to be the backup center to Abdul-Jabbar and to play defense against his former college teammate in McHale. As a Laker, he won two consecutive NBA titles. Thompson retired in 1991.
Thompson finished his career with over 12 thousand points and almost seven thousand rebounds in 13 pro seasons. The Trail Blazers rank him as the 11th best player in Portland history. Since his retirement, Thompson has become the radio color commentator voice of the Lakers.
The reason why Thompson’s name is so relevant this year for the draft is that his son should hear his name get called on Thursday. His son, Klay, is a dominant scorer at shooting guard and flaunted that during his time at Washington State.
In his first season at Wazzou, Klay started every game and averaged 12.5 points a game and was named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team. His two seasons following were even more impressive, including scoring 733 points this past season as a junior. In a Pac-10 tournament game, he scored 43 points.
The elder Thompson also had two other sons, both whom are playing sports. The oldest, Mychel is still playing basketball at Pepperdine University. The youngest, Trayce, was going to go to UCLA to play basketball, but was drafted in the second round of the 2009 MLB draft by the Chicago White Sox.