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Thunderbirds: Thompson Takes Steps Toward NBA Return

By Glen Rosales
Journal Staff Writer
    To judge from the stats first posted on the Internet, Dijon Thompson was no where near Las Vegas, Nev., when the NBA Development League All-Star Game was played this weekend.
    By the time the box score was fixed by Sunday morning, it revealed that far from being a no-show, Thompson was one of the standouts, scoring 14 points with four rebounds, two assists and a steal, but his efforts weren't enough to overcome the East as his West squad lost 114-100.
    Although that's not too bad an outing, it's well short of the 19.6 points and 8.9 rebounds he produces on average for Albuquerque.
    So even though the league statisticians might not have immediately recognized Thompson, he dispelled any doubts that he belonged there last week in the final game before the All-Star Break.
    Scoring at will from virtually any part of the floor, Thompson finished with 24 points by completing a perfect night of shooting by hitting all 11 of his shots against Arkansas.
    "My mentor here, Ira Harge, told me I need to drive it more," Thompson said of the father of Albuquerque assistant coach Joe Harge. "So that's what I tried to do. I took it to the basket."
    Thompson was the only Thunderbird to be named to the All-Star Game, although Albuquerque coach Michael Cooper also was on hand to participate in a celebrity shooting contest.
    Being the only Thunderbird player in Las Vegas was unexpected, Thompson said.
    "I was kind of surprised that I made it, but I've been doing pretty well," he said. "What really surprised me was that none of my Albuquerque teammates made it."
    He might not have been there, either, if he had stuck around with Atlanta in January. But after a three-week stint in the NBA, he returned to Albuquerque and has been instrumental in the team's turnaround from a dreadful stretch. The Thunderbirds have won 4-of-5 games, closing within 21/2 games of third place in the Western Division and the final playoff spot.
    Thompson, of UCLA, was no newcomer to the NBA, having spent virtually all of last season there with Phoenix.
    Although he saw action in just 10 games for Phoenix last season, he was fairly productive considering he averaged just 4.3 minutes of playing time, putting up 2.8 points and 1.1 rebounds.
    In six games and 8.3 minutes on the court for the Hawks this season, Thompson was again averaging 2.8 points with 1.3 rebounds.
    "I think I'm right there, I'm right on the cusp," of sticking in the NBA, he said. "I think I just need time and opportunity. I'm not even doubting my skills. I think I have what it takes and when the right situation comes along, hopefully, I'll make the most of it."
    It's been a whole different story during his time in Albuquerque since he's looked every bit the All-Star and like a player destined to move back to the NBA.
    "This is a step closer to being in the (NBA) All-Star Game," Thompson said of playing in NBADL game. "It's a steppingstone for me. It's a chance to maybe impress somebody."
   
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    Friday: Albuquerque Thunderbirds at Colorado, 7 p.m. Radio: KBZU-FM (96.3)