Listening to Klay Thompson speak, it was clear he's had aspirations of playing in the NBA throughout his life. And on Monday, he took the next step toward fulfilling his goal of playing at basketball's highest level as he declared for the 2011 NBA Draft. Thompson will not hire an agent, but will test the waters to see where he stands. If the evaluations go well, Thompson will make the jump, forgoing his senior season at Washington State to play in the NBA.
His opening statement was simple, but had a feeling of goodbye, though he insists that's not the case just yet.
"I've had a great time at this institution, I'm ready play at the next level and test out the process and see what opportunities lie ahead of me," Thompson said while making it clear he's ready to see what the NBA has to offer.
Thompson has confidence in his game and is excited to show scouts what he has to offer. If he's given a first round grade, it would be hard to turn it down to come back to Washington State.
"First round would be the main goal. We'll see when we go to these workouts. That'd be hard to turn down," he said. "I think if I play hard and go in there and be aggressive, I'll get a good feel of where I'm at. If I feel right and my game's ready, I'll make the jump."
He did leave open the possibility of returning if workouts don't result in good evaluation. The prize is a first-round grade and the guaranteed contract that comes with being taken early in the NBA Draft.
"That's not set in stone, but that'd be a major influence if I don't get that guaranteed contract," Thompson said when asked if he'd come back if he's not in the first round. "Why not come back and finish my senior year and get that NCAA Tournament."
On a retrospective note, Thompson was happy with his career if it's over at Washington State, despite never making the NCAA Tournament. If there's one piece of the puzzle missing it's a long postseason run, but the NIT run of this past season helps take away the sting a bit.
"I think I've accomplished a lot, not going to the NCAA Tournament was tough," Thompson said. "We still had some great runs and a great team. I think I'd be happy to enter and leave on a positive season and a positive note."
In the end, the scoring records, NCAA Tournament and college accolades just don't mean much. Thompson's goal, and the goal of many young basketball players, is the NBA. And as he stands on the cusp of making his goal a reality, Thompson does so without regrets.
"I don't really have regrets. The scoring record would be nice, but the NBA is my dream," Thompson said in a retrospective moment. "I think I have a chance to fulfill that dream. It would've been great to set all these records at WSU and I'll still come away with a great feeling. The NBA has been my dream. Playing at the highest level against the best competition ... I get chills thinking about it."
While Monday's announcement wasn't a firm commitment to the NBA, Thompson said he has his eyes on the NBA, and is leaning in that direction. Though he wouldn't put a percentage on it, he did say he'd be willing to come back for another year if he didn't hear what he wanted.
"I wouldn't say 99 percent, but I'm leaning towards leaving," Thompson said. "If I could get a good feel at these workouts, there's a part of me ready to make that next step, but I wouldn't have a problem coming back."
Washington State head coach Ken Bone had kind things to say, and gave Thompson his full blessing. Bone stayed out of the process, giving Thompson space to make his decision and serving more as a support system. But having a player make the jump to the NBA is a big step for Washington State, and one Bone feels can benefit the program in the long-term.
"He's a great player and we'd love to have him back. We understand the aspirations to play for the NBA. He's got my blessing and our blessing as an institution. It also says a lot about our program," Bone said. "It makes it easier for programs to recruit other kids if they see Klay go to the NBA."
Thompson plans to finish his degree -- he has about 24 credits left, he said -- if he does opt for early entry. He'll continue with school this semester and may take summer classes whenever possible if he leaves before finishing his degree.
The deadline for Thompson to make a final decision comes on May 9 and he'll have about a week to workout for teams. He's still early in the process, but Thompson is on the cusp of realizing a dream and playing in the NBA. While it may be nice to hold out hope for a return to Pullman, it's clear Thompson is all but gone.