By Mike Helfgot, Special to the Tribune
2:55 PM AKST, December 21, 2012
Sam Thompson's classmates at Young used nag him to dunk.
He often was a willing showman, putting on YouTube-worthy displays before practice, during lunch, whenever the mood struck.
He has a similar relationship with the student body at his current school, only it plays out before 19,000 people and many more on the couch.
"My athleticism is sort of a unique skill," Thompson said. "When I get a dunk it is something fun for the fans and my teammates."
With an increase in playing time at Ohio State this season, the 6-foot-7 sophomore is earning a reputation as one of the more exciting players in the nation.
His dunks are all the rage in Columbus, but few would be talking about him if the rest of his game hadn't improved enough to crack the lineup.
Utilized as a defensive specialist in 10.6 minutes per game as a freshman, Thompson has started all 10 games this season and is averaging 7.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and just under one block and one steal for the No. 7 Buckeyes, who are 9-1 entering Saturday's game with No. 9 Kansas.
He's also an improved 4-for-15 from 3-point range after going 1-for-14 all of last season.
"I think I took a big step from last year," Thompson said. "The biggest thing is my jump shot. To play extended minutes, you have to make teams guard you. If teams don't guard me now I have the ability to make them pay."
Along with Zion-Benton graduate Lenzelle Smith, 40 percent of Ohio State's starting lineup is from the Chicago area.
Thompson said the two talk trash about high school and AAU almost every day, and Thompson also has a direct line to another Chicago kid who has caught Thad Matta's eye.
But he's not putting the hard sell on former teammate and good friend Jahlil Okafor, the No. 1-ranked high school junior in the nation.
"The college decision process for me was stressful," Thompson said. "It was something I wanted to go through with just my family. I can only imagine what it's like for him. Every once in a while he'll ask me a question about Ohio State, and I'll let him know what it's like."
Sam Thompson file
College: Ohio State.
High school: Young.
Stats: 7.9 points, 4.0 rebounds.
FYI: He was a sophomore starter on Young's Class 4A championship team in 2009.