CORVALLIS — Basketball has been all about family for Ethan Thompson for a long time.
Stephen Thompson, his father, was a standout player at Syracuse University and also played in the NBA.
“I grew up admiring the way he played and his work ethic and his knowledge of the game,” Ethan said. “It just intrigued me to become a better basketball player.”
Stephen Thompson Jr., Ethan’s older brother, was his teammate for several seasons of youth basketball and two more at Bishop Montgomery High in Los Angeles, where this past winter Ethan led the boys basketball team to a 30-2 record, California state supremacy and a No. 4 national ranking.
After the past two years split apart — with Stephen Sr. as an assistant coach and Stephen Jr. as a player at Oregon State, and Ethan and mom Amy in Southern California — the family is back together again, in Corvallis.
Ethan, a 6-foot-5 guard and one of the most highly touted recruits in Beaver history, has been on the OSU campus for a few weeks with a summer class schedule as he prepares for life as a college freshman.
He was all smiles as he talked about playing with his brother again and having everyone together under one roof.
“It’s amazing,” Thompson said. “I loved playing with my brother in high school. We just have a connection, and I’m just looking forward to rekindling that connection again.”
Thompson says it was tough being away from his dad, who joined Wayne Tinkle’s initial staff in 2014, the past three years and Stephen Jr., now an OSU junior, the past two.
But he credits Stephen Sr. for creating a strong foundation that’s helped form a tight family unit. Having that bond made the separation easier.
Though they were together usually just a few days a month, there were online face-to-face conversations nearly every night that bridged the roughly 900-mile gap.
Even when his father wasn’t there, Thompson still felt his presence. In need of on-court guidance, Ethan could look at instructional drills his dad had left behind.
“I knew enough to where, if I’m missing a shot I would know what to correct because of what he’s telling me,” he said.
Early in his own basketball days, Thompson knew of his dad’s basketball success and then saw his brother also heading down the path toward a Division I career. Though still in middle school, he took notice and began his own preparations.
He wanted to be like them.
Stephen Jr. and Ethan played together and won big together (including a state title) for two years at Bishop Montgomery. When Stephen Jr. moved on to join their father at OSU, Ethan kept honing his skills.
This past winter, Ethan broke out in a big way, winning three prestigious player of the year awards after leading his team to the CIF Open Division title. He averaged 22.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.4 assists for the season.
“He's a highly-skilled, very competitive, tough-nosed perimeter player who will add a lot of talent to our group," Tinkle said earlier this year. “He's a very capable defender, loves to mix it up and loves to guard the other team's best player.
“He also rebounds it very well for a guard. He brings toughness and we are looking forward to having him in a Beaver uniform. I know he'll do great things for us.”
Last November, Thompson picked Oregon State over Syracuse, his dad’s alma mater and Ethan’s “dream school” growing up, as well as Stanford, which pulled at him due to its high academic standards.
Thompson again wanted to be like his father, but he tried to take his dad and brother out of the equation when selecting a school. In the end, it was OSU and community support that pushed him toward Corvallis, he said.
Ethan’s fellow first-year players, who have joined his on campus before the veterans return this week, knew of his basketball prowess and have seen it in person at the OSU Basketball Center since late June.
“A great player, a great scorer, creates a lot of space,” said freshman Alfred Hollins. “He’s very smooth, he can do it all, kind of like an on-ball general.”
Added graduate transfer Seth Berger: “Shares the ball well and just knows the game; for his age and as young as he is, can score and see the floor well.”
Thompson knows Tinkle expects a lot on defense and is ready for that challenge. The Beavers lacked in defensive communication and leadership last season, and Thompson believes he can help in those areas even as a freshman.
“I think I’m a pretty solid defensive player,” he said. “I know how to use my length and athleticism depending on who I’m guard and utilize that to the best of my ability.”
Thompson’s skills will be put to the test beginning with the start of practice in October and then the game schedule in November. He’s expected to be an immediate contributor for a program that struggled to a 5-27 record last season when injuries and other hurdles took their toll.
But first comes the reuniting of a family, with two Thompsons in OSU uniforms and another on the bench.
“Taking two years apart and then coming back together, I’m looking forward to it,” Ethan said.