NEWARK, N.J. — Canada’s Tristan Thompson was flying up the rankings leading up to the NBA draft. Now he’s going to be part of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ high-profile rebuilding project.
Thompson became the highest Canadian draft selection of basketball’s modern era when the Cavaliers took him fourth overall in Thursday’s draft.
He joins guard Kyrie Irving, who was taken first overall, as part of the process to rebuild the Cavaliers following LeBron James’ devastating departure last off-season.
Thompson, a Brampton, Ont., native, beat Phoenix star Steve Nash’s 15th overall selection in the 1996 draft. Bob Houbregs of Vancouver holds the record after being taken second overall by the Milwaukee Hawks in 1953.
“I need some more time for it to sink it, but it’s definitely an honor and it shows how much the Canadian basketball culture has grown,” Thompson said.
Immediately after shaking David Stern’s hand, Thompson was on the phone with Cavaliers coach, Byron Scott.
“Just, welcome to the family,” Thompson said, when asked what Scott had said to him. “I’m excited to be down there and it’s time to work.”
Thompson wasn’t the only Canadian taken in the first round. The San Antonio Spurs took his Texas roommate Cory Joseph, a native of Pickering, Ont., with the 29th pick. It’s the first time that two Canadians have been drafted in the first round.
Joseph, a guard, averaged 10.4 points and 3.6 rebounds as a freshman with Texas.
Thompson, a six-foot-nine, 230-pound forward from the University of Texas, averaged 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds in his first and only year playing in the NCAA.
While the pick drew a surprised reaction around the room when his name was called, Thompson said he felt confident with Cleveland in the days leading up the draft.
“I thought it was realistic after the Cavs called me for a second workout,” Thompson said. “I thought, anything is possible and I thought I could be the highest Canadian ever drafted.”
One thing Thompson has never lacked is confidence. Shining in his session with the media on Wednesday afternoon, he continued to work the room after being drafted.
“The journey has been exciting,” Thompson said of his past month. “Meeting a lot of front offices and travelling to a lot of different cities, it’s been a blessing in disguise. I know a lot of people never expected it…It just shows the wonders that hard work puts in.”
With many people initially doubting his decision to declare for the draft this year, strong workouts on the court and stellar interviews off of it helped Thompson’s stock skyrocket.
Admitting that he was nervous in the final minutes before the draft started, Thompson did not stop smiling after his name was called. With his goal met, he was looking forward to the next thing on his list: celebrating.
“I fell asleep around 2 o’clock,” Thompson said of his sleep the night before, before flashing a huge grin. “Maybe tonight I might be up all night.”