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WNBA great Tina Thompson & Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward share the secrets of their success.
by rick olivares
Tina Thompson and Gordon Hayward stood in front of the assembly of the top Jr. NBA players from all over the country. The gym at Focus Athletics along Pasong Tamo Extension in Makati fell silent.
It isn’t everyday when one of the WNBA’s all-time best players and one of the NBA’s rising stars (and one who stands at 6’8” at that) is paraded in front of budding young hopefuls.
Tina Thompson and Gordon Hayward both in town for the culmination of this year’s Jr. NBA shared with kids their insights on what has allowed them to make it to basketball’s pinnacle.
Both admitted that hard work, dedication to training in a gym such as Focus Athletics, paying attention to proper hydration, and a willingness to improve is important.
“I always want to win,” admitted Thompson whose pro basketball resume is glittering with silverware and platitudes. “I am from Los Angeles and I grew up watching Magic Johnson lead the Los Angeles Lakers to numerous championships. I think that you need a goal to shoot for. You work towards that goal and do everything you can to achieve those goals. That’s everything in a nutshell but there’s an awful lot of work you put in between. A lot of sacrifices.”
Thompson has the distinction of being the first ever lottery pick in WNBA history when she was selected first overall by the Houston Comets in 1997. By the end of the 2013 WNBA season, the LA native was the only player to have every played in all 17 seasons. She was a nine-time WNBA All-Star, a four-time champion with the Comets from 1997-2000, an All-Star MVP in 2000, and a two-time Olympic gold medalist during the 2004 and 2008 Summer Games.
For Hayward, it was his twin sister Heather who pushed him to be the best he could possibly be. “She was better than me when we were growing up and although it was friendly competition, that drove me. I have to say that my father (Gordon Scott) played a large role in my development. He taught me all the skills necessary for a small man to thrive in the game. I was also looking to try my hand at tennis as a career but little did I know that one day I’d have this growth spurt. And that sort of like was what pushed me to concentrate on basketball. Looking back it was one of the best things to happen to me.”
Most if not all the Jr. NBA kids come from small school in far-flung destinations. It’s something Hayward can identify with coming from a small school in Indiana. “Coming from a small school doesn’t mean that you have fewer chances,”
Hayward led his school (that has a student population of about 2,000 students) to the Indiana State championship. For college, he stayed home and went to tiny Butler University in Indianapolis and led the Bulldogs to the Horizon League championship. The following year, he took Butler to the NCAA title game. Hayward nearly won the championship for his school when his desperation half-court shot hit the backboard and rim at the buzzer. “To be able to have so much success in a small amount of time can get very bewildering. But you cannot rest on what you’ve achieved in the past and continue to strive for the future. It’s a cliché to say, ‘work hard’ and after some time it does fall on deaf ears. That is what separates the best from the others.”
Both Thompson and Hayward said that perhaps the biggest thing they had to work on to get to where they are at is that “mental edge”.
“That will spell the difference when you’re mentally strong because you’re never going to give up,” shared Thompson. “That mental edge provides the confidence to get things done on and off the court.”
When asked if he regretted coming out of college early to enter the NBA, Hayward said that there’s no time to regret anything. “You open yourself up to second guessing and you don’t want that. The best is to move forward.”
“That’s why it’s important for these Jr. NBA kids to work hard and I do mean work hard. It’s for that scholarship. It’s for a pro career if that is where they seem themselves going or for whatever it is in life they want to do. There are valuable lessons from sports. They just have to understand it and apply it.”