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Friendship Measures Up : USD's Musselman (5-7) and Thompson (7-0) See Eye-to-Eye on Everything

January 16, 1986|TOM FRIEND | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — They stand head and shoulders apart.

In other words, when 5-foot 7-inch Eric Musselman stands next to 7-0 Scott Thompson, his head is even with Thompson's shoulders.

But that's not the long or short of it. They also are best friends, roommates and teammates on the University of San Diego basketball team.

Silly how opposites attract. One of them, is headed perhaps for the NBA, his best basketball clearly ahead of him. He is insecure in his talents and in his ability to relate. He's as quiet as a mouse, yet as big as a moose.

The other is headed for a 9-to-5 job, his best basketball clearly behind him. He's an extrovert--in that he takes extra time to get dressed in the morning. Why? He needs to ask everyone how he looks. He's cocky. And he should be. His dad is a celebrity.

The other night, they had a game. Thompson started, and Musselman sat. But then the coach told Musselman to get in there. He played as well as he could, dribbling up against the press, getting the ball inside to his buddy, making his only open jump shot.

They won.

Scott Thompson and Eric Musselman walked off the court, arm in arm.

They are good for each other. Thompson, every other game or so, gets lazy. He walks up on offense or he doesn't run back on defense.

Musselman shouts to him.

"I'll cuss at him sometimes, too," Musselman said.

Thompson listens to the shrimp. First, he knows he needs to improve. Second, he knows Musselman knows his hoops.

Musselman's dad is Bill Musselman, the coach. He coached at the University of Minnesota and had a team there with Ray Williams (formerly New York Knicks) at guard, Mychal Thompson (Portland Trail Blazers) at center, and Mark Olberding (Sacramento Kings) and Mark Landsberger (formerly Los Angeles Lakers) at forwards. At the time, he also was recruiting a kid named Kevin McHale.

Little Eric Musselman watched practice everyday.

Later, Bill went on to coach the San Diego Sails of the now-defunct American Basketball Assn. Then, he coached the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers. Now, he coaches the Tampa Bay Thrillers of the Continental Basketball Assn. Eric, of course, has stayed in touch.

So, he knows his hoops.

Every so often, Eric talks to his dad about Thompson. "Heard what the scouts are saying?" he says. And every so often, Thompson picks up the phone when Bill Musselman calls his son.

"Heard anything?" Thompson asks.

"Well," Musselman says, "Rod Thorn (formerly of Chicago) and Rick Sund (of Dallas) say they like you."

"Oh," Thompson says.

Later, the two roommates talk it over. Little Musselman is one reason why Thompson has become more talkative in general.

"When I was younger, I just hung around and didn't have too much to say," Thompson said. "I guess if I did have something to say, it was worthwhile. I don't know if this is because I was tall, but I was shy."

Said his dad, Leonard Thompson: "A lot of times, we'd go fishing, and he may not say anything while we'd drive, and then he'd go off somewhere by himself and fish on his own."

This was all before Musselman began talking his ear off.

"Scott's quiet, and I'm outgoing," Musselman said. "He sometimes won't go to a big party with a lot of people there, and I will. He'll want to be alone with a friend, and I'm more comfortable with crowds . . . But we go to breakfast, lunch and dinner together and to practice together. And on the road, we room together. Usually, you'd want to get away from each other at that point.

"Why is this? I don't know. Some people click, and we just clicked . . . And the more I get to know him, the more I like him. He's very sensitive. I don't think he opens up to too many people, but he has to me. We talk about anything that comes to mind. Just the other day, it was religion."

One day, someone asked Thompson what class he had in the afternoon.

"Ask Eric," he said.

They have the same schedule.

They came such different routes. Thompson is from the Sacramento area, and only played basketball because he was tall.

"I'd go around somewhere, and they'd say 'You must play basketball,' " Thompson said. "I'd say: 'No, I play polo.' Of course, I played basketball."

He wasn't very coordinated. Most big men aren't, unless you're Ralph Sampson or somebody. Even today, Thompson has his shot blocked by little 6-7 guys. He can't jump too well.

"Well, he can slam it," USD Coach Hank Egan said when asked about Thompson's vertical leap.

He averaged 30 points and 16 rebounds as a senior at Mesa Verde High School, and former USD Coach Jim Brovelli recruited him, saying Thompson would prosper in the Toreros' slow tempo.

As a freshman, he was named the West Coast Athletic Conference's rookie of the year.

As a freshman, he met Musselman.

Musselman had come to San Diego because his dad knew Brovelli. Still, he'd been an outstanding point guard in the Cleveland area and attracted a lot of attention for a tiny guy.

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