Ryan and Jason Thompson are two very unique individuals. Jason is the older of the two siblings, and they grew up in the same household. Both of their parents were blue-collar workers; their father was a UPS employee while their mother was a nurse. Neither son grew up assuming that they’d someday make basketball or professional sports their career. They had supportive parents who were strict, strong-willed and smart.
“Sometimes I think kids don’t want to be around strict tones,” Jason told Basketball Insiders. “But I think a family with structure works and pans out for the future. Education was always a priority in our household. After that, we could go to [play basketball].”
Their parents were always involved and helpful. As the two brothers grew older, they knew their parents would be there to support them.
“Every single game, you would see them,” Ryan said. “As competitive as they are, they would never sit next to each other. They would also sit on opposite sides of the court. They were at every game. Even every college game, they were in the stands and gave us the support that we needed.”
Both Jason and Ryan credit their parents for a lot of their success. As noted, they would push them – on and off the court. Of course, they both had to put in extremely hard work as well in order to achieve their success. Jason and Ryan attended Rider University, a small school in New Jersey, where they both had illustrious college careers. Jason would graduate and become the No. 12 pick of the 2008 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings.
Since that point, a lot has changed. Both brothers are now playing professionally overseas in China and Germany, respectively.
After eight years in the NBA – playing for the Kings, Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors – Jason made the leap to the Chinese Basketball Association this season where he’s now suiting up for the Shandong Golden Stars. The move takes him far from home, but as he looks back on the ups and downs of his NBA journey, he’s excited to be in China and is taking full advantage of the opportunity.
“Well, for me, I am very blessed,” Jason told Basketball Insiders. “I got to play at a small school in Rider and developed, growing three-to-four inches and gaining 50 pounds in college to become an NBA prospect. I was projected from lottery to mid-to-late first round. When you go in the lottery, you don’t go to a good team. Obviously, I had an amazing seven years with Sacramento, but in that time we had two different ownership [groups] and seven different coaches. I had over 100 teammates. So no coach I had was there for over two seasons. I put up good, solid numbers at times, double-figure seasons in most years I played in Sacramento. Then, I just wanted to see if the grass was greener on the other side.
“So I went to Philly and almost immediately, Golden State traded for me. I was in an unfortunate situation with a team coming off a championship where none of the guys were leaving and everyone was coming back. So it was tough getting minutes on a team that just won a championship. Then, I had the opportunity to play in Toronto and experience my first playoffs with a team that was high in the NBA as well. So I went from a team that was not as good, playing a lot of minutes and being a starter my whole career, to higher-ranked teams and not playing as much but just doing what it takes to win. Definitely two different scenarios in that sense of being with an organization for seven years and then being with two teams all in one season. It’s definitely crazy when it comes to that. With the CBA it’s a different opportunity, but it’s a great one.”
For Ryan, he’s also in a different situation. He decided to play in Germany for Telekom Baskets Bonn after playing in the NBA’s Development League. He obviously watched his brother experience success in the NBA and dreamed about playing in the league as well. However, he can appreciate his own path and where his career has taken him over the years.
“The motto that my brother and I have is just, ‘Control what you can control,'” Ryan said. “If you go into a game thinking, ‘I’m going to do this and this, or worrying if coach going to put me in,’ you’ll never be comfortable. Just control what you can control and play the game the way you’ve been playing for your entire life. That’s how I’ve approached my career as well. As the years have been going on and I’ve been getting older, you just kind of hit the point where whatever happens, happens. Before when I was younger it was hoping, hoping, hoping [I’d be in the NBA]. Now, I’ve been playing overseas in what is my sixth season. This is home now until it’s over. Unless another road opens up for me, this is where I am and where I’m going to be.”
It’s pretty remarkable that the brothers have followed such similar paths. Both were raised under the same roof, played at the same high school and college, and ended up playing professionally. They’re also currently leading their respective teams overseas in player efficiency rating and performing very well. While they’re in two different countries, they keep in close contact because the time zone difference isn’t too bad.
“With [Jason’s] experience, it wasn’t always the greatest of times because he wasn’t always on the winning side of things,” Ryan said. “You got to push through it, and the same goes with me. We always talk because situations aren’t going to be in your favor at all times, you just have to make the best of every situation that you’re in. The thing that’s good about us is we talk a lot. We actually talk more now because he’s overseas and the time change isn’t so different. Also, in the summer when the season is over, it’s good to have somebody in your corner that’s competitive too. In the summer, we’re always working out together and keeping things competitive so we’re ready for whatever is to come next.”
“It’s a great situation,” Jason added about his relationship with his brother. “Obviously, with having a brother two years apart and having the same interests in a lot of things, especially basketball, it’s a great relationship. We went to the high school together and we also went to the same college, which is not heard of. Getting to play two years in high school and two years in college together was great because we’d be there for each other. Any time he needed me for advice as a pro, with things on and off the court, I was always there for him throughout the way. Now with me being on the other side of the water right now, I’ve been getting a lot of advice from him since he’s been over here for the past seven years. It’s definitely been a learning experience and a change of direction, with him knowing more that goes on over here.”
As they’re both playing overseas in different countries now, they’re also mindful of starting their careers after basketball. They grew up in a family that takes pride in working hard, having strong morals, ensuring financial stability and planning for the future. Ryan and Jason each have plans for when they’re done playing because they know their on-court careers can’t last forever. Jason plans to work in broadcasting, while Ryan wants to coach.
“I always keep in contact with my coaching staff at Rider University,” Ryan told Basketball Insiders. “That’s where Jason and I played. Whenever I decide to stop playing overseas or don’t have the opportunity to play overseas anymore, I think coaching is a thing I want to do. I want to stay around the game of basketball and help kids go through the process that I went through – teach them some of the things I’ve learned and watch kids grow up and be able to do some of the things I have.”
Jason, on the other hand, wants to have a future in broadcasting.
“My degree is in TV and Radio Communications,” Jason said. “So I want to be some type of analyst for sports and, obviously, preferably basketball. But really, any sport would be nice. Starting a show on television, being on the radio, hosting a podcast and doing things like that. I also want to do something on the side of SiriusXM radio, where I talk about relationships and being single. I think that would be intriguing from the athlete’s perspective. Those are all things I want to do media wise. But I also have my Jason Thompson Foundation. It’s helping out kids to speak their minds on certain things and keep them out of trouble in the urban areas.”
Jason has attended the NBPA’s sportscaster program and hope to continue pursuing that career path long-term. His foundation is built in support of his cousin, Tiffany Carroll, who passed away to a disease known as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). HCM is known as a leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes. The foundation was built around raising awareness of heart disease for athletes, children and young adults. However, Jason also has goals for future endeavors with his foundation.
The Thompson brothers are two basketball players who are living out their dreams on a level they’d never thought possible when they were growing up. Their parents provided them with motivation and support, and through hard work and the desire to learn, they’ve managed to thrive in any situation.
“I want to teach kids that everyone has a dream, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything in life,” Jason said. “With hard work, having yourself around the right people and making the right decisions, you can achieve anything you want.”
He also stresses the importance of having a back-up plan just in case, adding: “God forbid something happens to me playing wise, I have my education to fall back on.”
The slogan “Live Like J.T.” is on his website as well as “learn, imagine, voice, educate.” This statement clearly sums up what the Thompson brothers have achieved and will continue to work toward. While they aren’t currently in the NBA, they’re enjoying the international game and looking forward to their respective futures.
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