Trey Thompkins Taken by L.A. Clippers, Bid Fond Farewell by Bulldog Nation

"Don’t worry, coach. I’m coming back," Thompkins said when he announced his decision Thursday night at the UGA Tipoff Club’s end of season banquet.

The revelation set off a rousing ovation from the crowd of about 200 at the Athens Country Club and surprised even coach Mark Fox, who had made mention of the big decision facing him.

"God bless you, Trey," Fox responded.

Athens Banner-Herald (April 15, 2010)
Ladies and gentlemen, MaconDawg and I will be writing about, and you will be reading about, Georgia basketball in March 2011. How cool is that?

Dawg Sports (April 16, 2010)
Trey Thompkins, as usual, played basketball the way Peter Krause acts, demonstrating his craftsmanship in such a way that excellence appeared effortless. . . .

It has been at least a decade since a Georgia men’s basketball team made an NCAA Tournament field with anything like legitimacy. This team made the Big Dance honestly, and it will do so again, and soon. I guess I should be disappointed, because this was the end of the season. What I am instead is proud, because this looks to me more like a beginning.

Dawg Sports (March 19, 2011)

Because the Georgia Bulldogs historically have boasted what most likely is the weakest hardwood tradition in the Southeastern Conference, the list of Red and Black basketball greats is a short one. We are, after all, talking about a program that has two SEC tournament titles and two NCAA Sweet 16s all-time, so the roster of enduring legends is not a lengthy one.

Dominique Wilkins qualifies, obviously. After that, though, the pickings get a bit slim. Alec Kessler? Litterial Green? Sundiata Gaines? Beyond them, I don’t exactly have nothing, but I sure don’t have a lot. Of course, Kessler (with 1,788 career points) and Green (with 2,111) each left Athens as the Hoop Hounds’ all-time leading scorer to that point, but Gaines is beloved in Bulldog Nation for altogether different reasons. It was Sundiata who claimed conference tournament MVP honors during the miraculous 2008 league tourney run (despite fouling out twice in Atlanta), securing a highly improbable bid to the Big Dance and ensuring that he will never have to buy his own drinks where there are Georgia fans to be found.

The question is whether Trey Thompkins makes the list, and, if so, where. The Lithonia native, who was selected with the 37th overall pick in the second round of the NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers, began his Bulldog career by making the conference all-freshman team as a rookie, then followed that up by being named first-team All-SEC in his sophomore and junior seasons. Though he closed out his Classic City career ranked only 17th overall in scoring in the Georgia record book, Thompkins overcame a preseason high ankle sprain prior to his final year as a collegian to become the 40th Red and Black player to tally 1,000 points in a Georgia uniform.

Draft projections vacillated between Trey’s pros and cons, questioning his athleticism yet praising him as one of the draft’s more skilled big men, noting that he was limited by his perimeter orientation while recognizing his potential as an inside-outside scorer, and downgrading him for his lack of jump shooting efficiency though at the same time acknowledging his ball-handling ability. Evaluations of Thompkins were all over the map; emotions concerning him appear to adhere to the same pattern.

It was Travis Leslie who brought the Stegeman Coliseum crowd to its feet with his high-flying dunks, whereas Trey Thompkins seldom seemed to find his way into "Sports Center" montages with any regularity. At a school whose greatest player went by the moniker "The Human Highlight Film," even more than at most places, the spectacular drew the spotlight away from the steady.

Make no mistake, though: Thompkins was steady, routinely. During his last two seasons, especially, his reliability was remarkable, as he consistently hovered in the vicinity of 31 minutes, 17 points, and eight rebounds per game while making 48 per cent of his field goals, roughly 70 per cent of his free throws, and about a third of his shots from beyond the arc.

Thompkins plays the game with more grace and craftsmanship than style and showmanship, so much so that it is easy to overlook him, since he does little to call attention to himself . . . little, that is, except his job. He will do that for the Clippers, just as he did it for the Bulldogs, and, though he likely will not be as beloved among the Red and Black faithful as the likes of Wilkins and Gaines, this much must be said for Thompkins: when he said he was returning, we believed, and he delivered, leading the Hoop Hounds to their first legitimate tourney berth in longer than some of us can remember.

Of how many Bulldog basketball players might it honestly be said that his return assured an NCAA Tournament bid that Georgia otherwise would not have received? Dominique never made it to the Big Dance, and his teammates advanced to the Final Four in what would have been his senior season after Wilkins left early for the NBA. Thompkins, by contrast, announced his return with the same apparent effortlessness with which he excelled on the court, made possible through his presence what we may look back on as a breakthrough year for Georgia basketball, and inspired a young fan or two along the way.

For all that, as we bid him farewell, we should send him off to Los Angeles with the words Mark Fox used to welcome him back to Athens: "God bless you, Trey."

Go ‘Dawgs!

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