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November 01, 1987|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

"I was late to some practices and missed some buses--as was reported in the papers all year," he said ruefully. "I got it together by the end of the season. It took me a whole season, but I think I got it figured out."

Thompson, a finance major at Louisville, obviously decided he didn't want to part with any more of his money, in the form of fines that went toward a team party at the end of the season.

"I heard they had a good party," he said. "I'm glad I chipped in.

"I wasn't able to put it on my income tax returns," he added, deadpan. "I don't understand that--hundreds of dollars I donated to that party, and no tax write-off?"

Thompson, a two-time high school All-American in Camden, N.J., had his best season statistically at Louisville his junior year, when he led the Cardinals in scoring, rebounding and assists. His future in the National Basketball Assn., however, was clouded by reports--in the words of one team general manager--that Thompson was "into the nose candy."

His involvement with cocaine is a closed chapter in his life, Thompson said, a big step even for someone with a size 17 shoe.

"I used to try drugs to the point where it wasn't doing any good for me," Thompson said. "It was destroying the body. I changed because of my relationship with the Lord. I stopped messing around with drugs and partying, because I came to realize it wasn't helping me at all.

" . . . When you're being real, you're being righteous. And when you're righteous, you're pleasing God. And when you please God, you get all the blessings."

The first to come his way, Thompson said, was Louisville Coach Denny Crum's telling him he'd been selected to play in the World University Games in Kobe, Japan. After that, an NCAA title at Louisville, and then a draft-day trade with Atlanta that brought him to the Lakers.

While he waits to play again, Thompson is lifting weights with his knee, working on a trampoline and riding a bike, and undergoing some electrical stimulation. It's a routine he follows twice daily.

"I'm looking at coming back, hopefully very soon," he said. "It's frustrating to know that when (the injury) happened, I was improving to the point where my confidence--knowing what had to be done--was growing. To see it go on this long is frustrating, because I knew I was getting better and stronger."

West said team doctors have indicated that Thompson has shown significant improvement in the last three weeks.

"He's young enough," West said. "It shouldn't bother him."

If everything goes the way Thompson hopes, Magic Johnson will be inviting him to his slam-dunk competition next summer.

"Anything you do that's different, it's a '10,' " Thompson said, describing some of his cosmic creations, such as the bounce-off-the floor, grab-in-midair, reverse two-handed dunk he did in one game last season.

"That's cool, that's fun, but we all do that because we're talented," he said. "Nobody's showing off--it's serious. I'm serious. When we're up there, we're not trying to make some bull moves. Everybody has confidence in what they're doing."

Thompson laughed. "Like Kurt (Rambis), man. Did you see the behind-the-back pass he threw the other night? That was cool."

Thompson would gladly settle for that right now. A chance to be cool.

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