GoldandBlack.com Exit Interview: P.J. Thompson
P.J. Thompson has always just wanted to be known as a winner.
His body of work at Purdue suggests that that is exactly how history should remember him, because the outgoing Boilermaker point guard not only played a role a meaningful role in 83 victories as a starter the past three seasons, but also so often came up big in big moments, his track record of pivotal-shot-making being one of his defining characteristics as a college player.
That, on top of the universal admiration he's drawn for the quality of teammate and leader he's been for Purdue.
Below, Thompson looks back on his now-concluded college career in this GoldandBlack.com Exit Interview.
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GoldandBlack.com: What do you want to be remembered for?
Thompson: "Definitely for just being a winner. Someone who sacrificed for Purdue and put his teammates first and university before myself. When you are in high school, you don’t necessarily realize that things are bigger than you because you’re getting all that attention. When I got to Purdue, and even at Brebeuf, I was taught that we were playing for something bigger than ourselves. I think that's what hit me early and helped me do whatever it took. I don’t care if I score 10 points or score zero. As long as I am putting my best foot forward and leading, that was something I could always do to help Purdue win."
GoldandBlack.com: How would you define 'winner' now that it's all over?
Thompson: "I think getting Purdue that Big Ten championship was huge and that was a goal of ours. Our biggest goal was to get to the Final Four and eventually win the national championship, but we didn’t get that one. I think to go to two Sweet 16s, win a Big Ten Championship, and have a 30-win season, especially considering where they were at before we got here, I think we put Purdue back where it belongs. We’ve been getting a lot more respect around here and I think people realize the impact that we made."
GoldandBlack.com: What should your class be remembered as?
Thompson: "I don’t think we are necessarily the best class to come through Purdue, but we are up there. We think we are one of the best, collectively, to come through. In college basketball, you don’t see a lot of people stay all four years, since there are people transferring or getting in trouble. That’s not us. We honestly wanted to win for Purdue. We didn’t want distractions. We wanted to get the job done and have a business-like approach. Yes, you are going to fail and lose games that you shouldn’t. We did that plenty of times, but we put Purdue in a better place than it was when we got here. If you can do that, that's pretty special."
GoldandBlack.com: You went through a lot of difficulties here at Purdue as well, most recently the Isaac Haas situation. How does that prepare you for down the road?
Thompson: "It makes you tougher. Things happen that aren’t supposed to happen. That's a part of life. It's bigger than basketball. That's why we wanted to be more than basketball players here. We wanted to be in the community and give back. It's crazy to think of the amount of people that look up to us here as college athletes. To know that you can have an impact on somebody’s life is pretty special. It allows us to represent Purdue in the best way."
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GoldandBlack.com: What was the biggest shot you hit at Purdue?
Thompson: "Probably the Iowa State one. We were down two and had previously had a 15-point lead. We were blowing them out and then they came back to take the lead by two, and then the next possession I hit a three to give us the lead again. There was only a couple minutes left, and then I ended up hitting the two free throws to put us up four in the end."
GoldandBlack.com: Why did you have such a knack for those shots?
Thompson: "I just live for those moments. I love to hit an important three and then the other team calls a timeout which allows you to celebrate a little bit. I was never afraid to take them. I remember my freshman year against Cincinnati, I was in the corner and Coach Painter was pointing to me because I was open, and I ended up air-balling it. We then went on to lose that one. I’ve never been scared of those moments and I have made big shots my whole life. My teammates trust me in those moments and I have confidence. As a point guard it is my job to get someone the ball if they're hot, but if I'm left open I will take the shot."
GoldandBlack.com: When you are small, can you be scared?
Thompson: "I think to play at this level, you have to have an edge or a supreme skillset, because it's hard. This is one of the best conferences in the country and I'm 5-10. You have guys like Tony Carr, who's 6-5, and can really be a matchup problem. I think if you play with that confidence and edge, and if you work on your game, that’s where the confidence can come from. That’s how it’s been all my life, though. I've felt like I've always been underrated and there were a lot of point guards that were ranked higher than me, and I would go show out against them and have a 30-point performance. Same for in college. I might not have scored 25 points, but I'd do a good job against them defensively and we'd win the game."
GoldandBlack.com: How did being small shape you into the person you are today?
Thompson: "Sometimes it would be hard to have that nice-guy switch off the court. One of my coaches worked with me on that. I could be the nicest guy off the court, but on the court I would have to be a dog. It's hard for me to find that balance, and I did a better job of it when I got older. Having that tenacity and fight and toughness about you is part of it."
GoldandBlack.com: Did your family's basketball history impact you, too, with your upbringing being what it was?
Thompson: "Playing against my brother and playing against my dad when I was younger, you wouldn’t want to be lost in the shuffle. You wanted to be the best in your family and compete. You want people to think, 'P.J. Thompson, I don’t know if his dad could have got him.' I also have my little brother, and I want him to be better than me. I don’t want him to be known as P.J. Thompson’s little brother. I want him to be known as Isaiah Thompson."
GoldandBlack.com: Did the name on the back of the jersey mean a little more to you? Did you feel like you were carrying it on your shoulders?
Thompson: "It did. Having 'Thompson' on my jersey, I feel like I am representing my family. Everyone is watching to see if you will do the right things on and off the court. People know who you are, even if you are in line at Chipotle. You have to do the right things and be accountable. I represented my family the best way that I could. When I wasn’t out there playing, I felt like I was still doing things to represent my family well."
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GoldandBlack.com: Who was the best player you played with?
Thompson: Probably A.J. (Hammons) or Biggie. When A.J. was locked in, the effect it had on us was unbelievable, especially defensively. When he wasn’t locked in, he wasn’t the same, but when he was locked in, it's hard for me to say someone was better than him. Biggie was so dominant as far as rebounding and scoring.
"I don’t know, man. I have played with so many good players that it is hard. My class was really good. They’re up there. Carsen (Edwards) is an All-American. Rapheal (Davis) and that way he brought us back."
GoldandBlack.com: Who was the best player you played against?
Thompson: "In the Big Ten, and people that I guarded, Yogi (Ferrell) was really hard to guard. Denzel Valentine was really good. He had a triple-double, but it was the hardest triple-double he has ever had (joking). D.J. Newbill, even though I didn’t guard him. The Big Ten has had so many good guards."
GoldandBlack.com: Best win ...
Thompson: "For me personally, beating Butler meant a lot since they recruited me for a long time. I kind of wanted to go there and possibly could have gone there had my grades worked out in high school. When Coach (Brad) Stevens recruited me I really like them a lot. It's a hometown school,too, so you get the bragging rights. Beating IU every time too. Being an Indiana kid, you have so many friends that go there. Beating IU and having those bragging rights. My mom went there, but she is fully black and gold now."
GoldandBlack.com: Worst loss ...
Thompson: "I was going to say when I was a freshman, when we lost to North Florida and Gardner-Webb. I didn’t understand the significance of that loss and how the selection committee would see that for the NCAA Tournament. That was a bad loss. I just knew that was bad because of the practice afterwards. Little Rock was probably the most defeating loss because I played really bad, had five turnovers, shot poorly, and we lost in the first round. That was a really low moment in life.
"Then the Wisconsin loss this year hurt just because we felt like we had the Big Ten won if we could just win a couple more. Losing there, I remember I cried after that game since I felt like we gave up the Big Ten."
GoldandBlack.com: Give me something about Painter that below don't know.
Thompson: "I think people label him as a very serious guy and not a player’s coach, and it's the opposite. Painter’s not calling me every day, asking me how I am, but when I go up there we end up talking for 30 minutes each time because he has such a deep basketball mind. Coach Painter and his staff have to be the most detail-oriented people in the country. I don’t know how it is at other places, but it's hard to imagine a scouting report being as detailed as ours. He cares about his players and he really wants the best for you. He wants to take care of you for life.
"I know in 15 years I could call Coach Painter if I need something and he will be there. I just don’t feel like he gets the respect he deserves. We won the Big Ten last year and won 19 in a row this year, yet it felt like no one even mentioned him for coach-of-the-year races. Every time when we lose he gets a lot of crap that he doesn't deserve."
GoldandBlack.com: Why are you so damn mature? In my experience with you, you've been like that since eighth grade.
Thompson: "I just have treated basketball like a business. I come to work every day and work out every day. I have my fun, but I am mature enough to do both. I enjoy hanging out with people, but I get my work done here. I will always put basketball first. In high school, my friends wanted to hang out on the weekend, but I told them I would have to get my workout in first. That's always how I have been. It’s always been school first, then (basketball), and then the other stuff is secondary."
GoldandBlack.com: You looked like a different player in the NCAA Tournament than you did late in the regular season.
Thompson: "There was more of a scoring opportunity with Isaac going down and Matt (Haarms) at the 5, since Matt plays differently. When Isaac is in, he is getting a lot of the touches, so offensively it was different for me. I had to play more how I did in high school. Defensively, I was fresher and I knew this was our last go.
"At some point, I was dragging in the middle of the season, and after playing in (the World University Games), the body was just more worn out. I did play my best basketball at the end. I feel like we needed it and it was good timing. That’s how it has always been. I have stepped up when we needed it."
GoldandBlack.com: When you have kids some day, where are you going to tell them that scar under your eye came from?
(From the Youngstown State game his sophomore season.)
Thompson: "I’ll tell them I got elbowed, and that they should avoid that by getting the long rebounds. You have to get the long rebounds. Don’t go in there with the big dogs."
GoldandBlack.com: Did you have any idea that it was going to be permanent when it happened?
Thompson: "I had a lot of stitches. It was like eight or 10, so I figured there was going to be a pretty big scar there."
GoldandBlack.com: Anything else you have to say about your career?
Thompson: "I am going to miss it. I am going to miss being here but I will be back since my brother will be here. I’ll be around, but the Boiler fans have been awesome and you guys in the media have been awesome. ... I think next year they will be good and they will surprise some people. When we were young, we weren’t the greatest, but we got better each and every year and I think it will be the same with them. There will be more of an opportunity to as well. "I am excited to watch them."
GoldandBlack.com: Who is the leader for next year’s team?
Thompson: "I think Matt (Haarms) has a lot of leadership capabilities and he gets so excited that he has to find a way to keep an even keel. Ryan (Cline) will be a senior and he can lead on the court. And Carsen (Edwards), should he come back, can get better not only basketball-wise, but also in his maturity."
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