Still only 24 years old, Deon Thompson already has had a chance to see all aspects of European basketball by living and playing hoops in three different countries – Greece, Slovenia and Germany.
The former North Carolina standout already knows what it means to play in front of sometimes violent Greek basketball fans, compete in the second best league in the world, Euroleague, or practice twice a day on regular basis. Thompson also knows what is like to be a leader of a Euroleague Top 16 team.
After joining the most famous German team, Alba Berlin, Thompson immediately became the main figure of the club by leading the team in scoring, rebounding and blocks. The forward was able to improve his numbers in every statistical categories from last season while he was playing for Union Olimpija, averaging 12 points and 5.4 rebounds during the 2012-13 Euroleague season.
Now Thompson feels ready to step up and join a winning Euroleague team.
RealGM recently caught up with Thompson to discuss his success in Europe, his game improvement and plans to make it to the NBA.
RealGM: First of all, how would you evaluate your performance in the 2012-13 Euroleague season?
Thompson: It was my second year in the Euroleague and I feel I made great strides from my first year to my second year. In the first round of the Euroleague, I played some of the best basketball in my three-year career so far in Europe, I was able to lead my team, Alba Berlin, into the Top 16 and was able to help the club get it's first ever win in the Top 16. While in the Top 16 for the first time my numbers dropped a little from the first round, as teams started to guard me differently and show me different defenses while I had the ball on the low post. In the 65 games I showed that I could play, compete and being 24 years old, I still have some things I can improve on.
RealGM: Could you compare the situation while you were playing for Union Olimpija and this season with Alba?
Thompson: My time with Union Olimpija was a good experience on how things in Europe can be in regards to money and sponsorship situations. Our team started off very strong in the ABA League competition and was fighting in the Euroleague in one of the toughest groups that year. But early in the year, our team started to have financial problems up to where we were three months behind on payments, which makes it difficult to motivate players to practice twice a day for two hours each. So as all of us players went on strike and we saw our teams performance drop and then we lost seven of our top players who left to other teams. Situations like that makes winning very difficult. The main reason I didn't leave was because I felt I was developing my skills and while playing for coach Saso Filipovski, money wasn't as important at the time compared to the things he was teaching me.
While with Alba, it was the total opposite when it came to financial things as the German economy is one of the strongest in all of Europe. When I came to Alba I was given a bigger role on the team and the opportunity to lead the where most of the offense was ran through me, I have to give thanks to coach Sasa Obradovic for given me that chance. The city of Berlin, there isn't enough words for me to describe how incredible the city was, I loved it. The city of Ljubljana was nice as well, but just a smaller city, but it is very nice at the same time.
RealGM: How did it feel to be playing for the same team once again with Danny Green, your former teammate at North Carolina?
Thompson: It was great to have Danny over in Europe with me during the NBA lockout. We were college roommates during my sophomore year at UNC, so over the three years we were able to build a great relationship. To be able to share an experience doing something you love like basketball all the way across the world with one of your brothers is always a great experience.
RealGM: In your opinion what were the reasons that Alba didn't go any further than quarterfinals in German league this season?
Thompson: It was very difficult for our team in the first round of the playoffs in the Beko-BBL (German League). As we played versus Bayern Munich and one of the best European coaches, Pesic. First, I want to give credit to him and his team, he had them ready to play right from game one. There are a lot of reasons why I think our team didn't go any further than the quarterfinals. One could be that our team competed in two competitions this season and with the new structure of how Top 16 was this year, we played close to 70 games! As where Bayren Munich only competed in one competition this year and only played 37 games. Our team wasn't very deep and we accumulated a lot of injuries during the season. With all the practice we did this season on top of playing 65 games, I think our team just ran out of gas and was tired. Also, Munich did a great job with their defensive pressure on our guards and in taking us out of what we wanted to run on offence. Also, I didn't play my best basketball in those three games, getting swept is more motivation for me to use while working on my game this summer.
RealGM: In your first three seasons in overseas, you played for three teams in three different countries. What have you learned so far as a person by living in Greece, Slovenia and Germany?
Thompson: Living outside the States hasn't been so difficult. Don't get me wrong, there always are hard moments during Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, etcetera where I am so far and distant from the ones I love. But I am use to being distant from family; I left Torrance, CA at 17 to go all the way across the country to North Carolina. Luckily, in my three years in Europe, I have been able to play in great cities, which makes it easier to live adjust, especially Americans. It has been a great experience, I really didn't see myself over in Europe, but I have been making the most of it, there is so much culture and history to learn from each country. I am using basketball as a tool to experience it all. Also, to be able to have my family visit and experience them with me is such a blessing in its self.
RealGM: Most of American basketball fans haven't seen you playing since 2010. In your opinion, how has your game changed since the last time you wore Tar Heel's jersey?
Thompson: Yeah, it has been awhile since I wore that Carolina Blue, where I spent four years in Chapel Hill. At UNC my game was mostly around the basket being able to make quick moves with my turn-around jumper or come to the middle with a jump hook. I still have those elements in my game in the post, but in Europe playing in the post is different. It's not so much about getting the best position, catching and making the fastest move possible to finish. In Europe getting the ball in the post is about patience, backing your defending down as close as possible to the basket and finish. Also with doing this there haven’t been very many people who can stop me one-on-one in the post so I draw a lot of double teams, that create a lot of open shots for my teammates. In the post there is just a different approach in how I play. Also, I have added a solid mid range jumper, which makes hard to guard when I'm involved in pick and pop/roll situations. I want to continue on extending my range to the three point line and all the way to the NBA three-point line. I really see myself as a stretch four man.
RealGM: Do you still stay in touch with your former teammates Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller, Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough and others?
Thompson: I always train in Chapel Hill during the summers, so I see a lot of the guys when they come into town.
RealGM: Why did you decide to go to Europe instead of playing in the D-League?
Thompson: For me, Europe was the smarter move. In three years, I have been able to earn and create a solid name for myself in Europe. Also financially, I have been able to make good money for myself as to where if I sat in the D-League and didn't receive a call up it would almost feel like a year wasted where I could of made great money overseas. I understand I won't be able to play basketball forever and at the end of the day it is about making the most money you can and be smart with it, so life after basketball after putting in all this hard work is well worth it. Being able to live comfortably and support my family.
RealGM: What are your plans for this summer? Are you planning to participate in the NBA summer league?
Thompson: The NBA is obviously a goal of mine someday. This summer I plan to train in Chapel Hill with the strength and condition coach, Jonas Sahratian and continue to get my body in the best shape possible, while working on the things in my game I need to improve. I do plan to play in the NBA summer league and I'm not sure as to whom I will be playing with at this point.
RealGM: What are your preferences for the next season?
Thompson: For next season, I want to do everything possible to try and get into the NBA. If I am close with a team, try and go to veterans camp and see where that takes me. If that doesn't workout, I want to play on the highest level in Europe and play in the Euroleague. But, I want to play with a team who will have the chance of winning Euroleague or at least can compete on a high level with all the teams.
RealGM: Have you already received any interest from specific leagues or countries?
Thompson: There are still a lot of teams still competing in there domestic leagues and I'm sure they are focusing on trying to win a championship.