UCLA alum Thompson returns to McKale with memories

By Michael Schwartz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 7, 2005

The last time Dijon Thompson stepped on the McKale Center court he watched Bobby Knight and Texas Tech end his collegiate career in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The time before that, he saw former Arizona guard Salim Stoudamire drill a 3-pointer from the cactus to beat his Bruins before a frenzied Wildcat crowd.

The Suns rookie swingman, a second-round draft pick from UCLA acquired in a draft-day trade, brings his McKale winless streak to the same floor tomorrow at 7 p.m. when the Suns play an intrasquad scrimmage open to the public.

Tickets cost $3 for Arizona students and children and $7 for general public. Proceeds will be donated to Wildcat athletics programs, said Suns President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo.

The game culminates a week of practice in McKale Center for the Suns, who started practicing Tuesday and will return to Phoenix after Sunday's morning practice.

Over that time, Thompson returned to the venue where his teams went 0-4 overall at Arizona.

That ignominy included the Jan. 15 game in which the Bruins led for most of the game, paced by Thompson's 27 points, before Arizona won it 76-73 on Stoudamire's 27-foot jumper.

However, Thompson's most memorable loss in McKale Center had nothing to with the Wildcats. Instead it was the 78-66 loss to the Red Raiders.

"We hadn't been to the tournament since my freshman year, so it was very big," Thompson said. "It was very special to get back my last year. To go out in the first round, it was kind of disappointing, but at U of A, it was tough."

If things had gone a little differently, Thompson could have been a key player in Lute Olson's program.

"I really wanted to come to U of A," Thompson said. "It was really a close decision. The only deciding factor was staying close to home, but if U of A were in L.A., I'd have been there."

Thompson now faces the task of trying to crack the Suns' rotation in the offseason at a position of flux.

With Phoenix having traded away starting swingmen Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson, Thompson will compete for backup minutes at shooting guard and small forward.

Thompson said he was excited to join the Suns because he will play alongside league MVP point guard Steve Nash, who should be able to create open looks for the rookie.

"I just hope to come in and contribute to get the championship," Thompson said. "That's the most important thing, to get the championship in my rookie year. That would be great."

Another Suns guard competing for backup minutes who enjoyed no collegiate success at McKale Center is former ASU star Eddie House.

House failed to beat the Wildcats in eight tries from 1996-2000. He scored only seven points on 3-for-15 shooting in ASU's 89-82 loss in Tucson during his senior year.

"They're all bad memories here," House said. "Things are different now, and I'm trying to become bigger and better."

While House stands just 6-foot-1, he hopes to land a spot in the Suns rotation as a scoring guard who can do more than just shoot.

"I think you're a basketball player, and you can do both (score and pass)," House said. "If you're guarded and somebody's open, you need to make the pass, and if you have to take a shot, you have to play basketball."

The Suns have used training camp to integrate new pieces like House and Thompson into the offensive system that won 62 games last season, best in the NBA.

While All-NBA performers like guard Steve Nash and forwards Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion remain from last year's Western Conference finalist squad, they join only two other players from a year ago.

Phoenix head coach Mike D'Antoni said the team is confident in the success of its system, and so now the team needs to find the best players to support its strong core.

"We know it works," D'Antoni said. "Now it's a matter of getting the guys tuned in and playing the right guys. We've got a good team here. They're willing to work and they do the things that will take you to the top."

He said after yesterday's practice that he doesn't know whether Thompson and House will play on separate teams or together tomorrow, leaving open the chance that neither player will get a taste of Tucson redemption.

Whatever the case, both athletes will get their shot to show a little more collegiate enthusiasm in Phoenix's fast-paced attack.

"The style reminds me of U of A," Thompson said. "It's my style of play. I get out and run with these guys, so I'm happy to be here."