One practice session does not a season make, of course, especially when it's the first session in a camp for rookies and free agents, but Billy Thompson, athlete, showed the versatile look the Lakers like so much Monday at Loyola Marymount. It doesn't figure to be the last time, either.
Thompson, the 6-7, 210-pounder who came to Los Angeles by way of Camden, N.J., the University of Louisville and, for about 20 minutes last Tuesday, the Atlanta Hawks, is looked upon as a small forward-big guard by Laker officials. But in his first appearance with the team, Thompson worked out at power forward and said that with the proper amount of weight work and conditioning, he wouldn't mind some time there during the season.
Seeing as versatile is the label that has followed him to the pros, giving Thompson a look at different positions is hardly a bold move.
"He is a well-rounded player and he plays more than one position," Laker General Manager Jerry West said. "Hopefully, that will happen. But that's something we won't know until he moves up a level in (practice) competition.
"Particularly for a coach, it makes a lot of difference. Injuries are a factor that are figured into basketball teams, although not a positive factor, so the more versatile a player is will help him sustain a role."
Said Wade Houston, an assistant coach at Louisville, when told of the little experiment: "I wouldn't be surprised if sometimes he did play power forward. Not against teams with a 7-foot power forward, but not every team has that luxury. Billy's best position, though, is at small forward.
"Contrary to what a lot of people believe, we (Louisville) have as structured a program as any college around . . . so I think the pro game might be more conducive to his style of play. It's more physical, has longer games and is more wide open. I'm not saying that we hampered him, but he did what we asked him to do."
In fact, Thompson's scoring and rebounding averages as a senior--14.9 and 7.8, respectively--were both down from the previous season, something Cardinal fans did not let pass without notice. Booed occasionally and criticized by the media, he still became the only player ever to finish in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding and assists at Louisville.
Thompson showed in the second half of his senior season just how effective he can be. He scored 65 points in a three-game span in February, had 24 points and 9 rebounds in the West Regional semifinal victory over North Carolina and 22 points--he made 10 of 11 shots--and 10 rebounds in the national semifinal win over LSU.
After that, he went to the NBA's annual tryout camp, a sort of showcase for college seniors, in Chicago.
"He's separated himself from just about every player here," Clipper assistant Brad Greenberg told the Philadelphia Daily News at the time.
The Lakers, knowing that Thompson would not be around by the time they had the 23rd pick, sent Mike McGee and first-round selection Ken Barlow of Notre Dame to the Hawks for Thompson and their second-round pick, Kansas swing man Ron Kellogg. Thompson was the man they wanted all along.
"It was real exciting," he said of the hectic draft day with his family in New Jersey. "Everybody was saying, 'You're going to L.A., you're going to L.A.' Everybody wanted autographs. It was pretty nice.
"All I can say is that I want to play to the best of my ability and contribute and make things happen that are good for the team."