For those who are not following collegiate basketball, the name Scottie Thompson would not have rung a bell a few years ago. He was not a player of the more popular UAAP league, running his explosive games instead in the NCAA with the University of Perpetual Help Altas.
When news broke that Ginebra Gin Kings had picked Scottie fifth overall in the 2015-16 PBA Draft, fans wasted no time searching for online features on him, expecting to read about the rim-rattling stylings of a humongous import that his name might suggest. There is some truth to the presumptions, sure—the Thompson name, after all, came from his great grandfather, who is Black American. To their surprise, however, what popped up on Google were photos of a decidedly Filipino-looking player who stands 6' from Digos City, Davao del Sur.
Of course, Scottie Thompson is no longer the stranger he was more than a year ago, what with his name gaining ground with the same velocity with which he runs on the hardcourt.
At the recent Ginebra victory party for their PBA Governors Cup 2016 win—the team’s first championship in 8 years—his name was among those loudly chanted by the fans, matching the intense cheers usually reserved for the team's more veteran superstars like Japeth Aguilar, Mark Caguioa, and Finals MVP L.A. Tenorio.
Walking through to the San Miguel Cafeteria, though, he displayed none of the cool angas factor that is usually associated with being part of Barangay Ginebra. He hung back, quite shyly, with his fellow rookies as they waited for their cue to go up onstage for the thanksgiving program. In FHM’s short conversation with him that night, he seemed unsure and reserved, still trying to figure out why someone would like to do a full-length feature on him.
After the program, some members of the team went to nearby Capitol Commons for dinner, and he was found at a corner table with the same rookie crew as they quietly talked among themselves. While his teammates busied themselves teasing Scottie about this feature and jokingly asking our permission to tag along at FHM’s cover shoots, he remained composed and reserved. This was probably due to his simple upbringing in Davao, where his life revolved around the game.
It is a different Scottie on the court, though, because his aggression and focused action has led him to create the stuff of legends. In Game 3 of the Gin Kings' semifinal bout versus the mighty San Miguel Beermen, the former NCAA Most Valuable Player recorded the first triple-double of his young professional career, becoming the first local player to achieve the feat since Johnny Abarrientos did it 23 years ago.
The heart of a warrior
At practice in preparation for the PBA 2016-2017 season, he was a blur on the court. It was a good thing that he was wearing a black t-shirt instead of the practice jerseys that the other players donned. It was somewhat easier to find him as he darted here and there in relentless pursuit of rebounds, positioning himself to be in the right place and at the right time—every time. It was like he had a homing signal on the ball, ready to pounce at the slightest opening for a steal or a fastbreak. In the animal kingdom, he would be a cheetah, a cunning fox, and the energizer bunny combined.
As he finally sat down to remove the tape that bound his feet, he rubbed them down carefully, massaging them—maybe even subconsciously congratulating them for a job well done. He granted an interview just before he hit the showers. The team's day wasn't over yet. They were still expected to hear Mass at the San Miguel HQ, followed by a boodle fight.
He didn't look tired, though, his energy still radiating warmly as he spoke about his childhood.
Davao del Sur’s Earl Scottie Thompson was named after Scottie Pippen, the legendary Dream Team and Chicago Bulls forward—and he took his namesake’s basketball career to heart by excelling in the sport. Much like Michael Jordan in the opening of Space Jam, young Scottie spent his time perfecting his game. “From elementary pa lang, basketball na ang laro ko. Sumasali na ako sa liga, sinasama na ako ng kuya ko sa mga laro na malalaki yung kalaban. May iba pa akong sports noon, Nag-ba-bike ako. Nagpapalipad ako ng BMX noong araw. Nag-focus ako sa basketball nung third year high school na ako sa Digos. Mula noon wala na akong nilarong ibang sports,” he recalls.
He grinned when asked about his student days. “May kalokohan din, sakto lang. Napapatawag ang magulang ko sa principal’s office noon. Kasi umaakyat kami ng bakod para mag-cutting classes.”
Unsurprisingly, he cut class to play ball. “Kapag hinintay mo pa ang last period, 5 o’clock na yun, madilim na, hahanapin ka na sa bahay. Kaya last period tumatakas na kami para makapaglaro ng dalawang oras.”
Playing hooky paid off in the long run, because he was chosen as one of the region’s players for the Palarong Pambansa in 2010, where he was spotted by the scouts for Perpetual Help.
He started with coaches Tonichi Pujante and Boris Aldeguer, and later trained under Coach Aric del Rosario, whom he credits for sharpening his hoop skills.
Life in Manila wasn’t easy at first, he says. The fourth of five children, he was the bunso of their close-knit family for a long time, owing to a big gap with their youngest sibling who is only 12. Never having been separated from his home before, he wanted to pack his bags and go back home to Davao a few days into his Manila stay. “Sinamahan ako ng kuya ko papunta ng Manila, wala naman kasi akong alam noon. May kamag-anak kami dito na sinamahan naman ako papunta sa Perpetual. Pero pagdating ko na doon, I was on my own.”
Coach Tim Cone on Scottie Thompson: 'He is also very humble. I think that is his number one strength—he is not only a great player, but he is also humble about it and that
makes him a great teammate'
The first few days were really bad, he shares. “Nung una, mahirap although meron naman kumakausap sa akin doon na kapwa bisaya, hindi nawawala yung homesick ka. Nung unang week ko dito, gusto ko na umuwi kasi nami-miss ko na ang pamilya ko.” His family urged him to stay on, giving him motivation through extensive phone calls. “Lagi lang nila sinasabi 'Sige, kaya mo yan.'”
Another career low was when the varsity team lost their championship slot in 2015 (the Atlas had placed second in 2014, Scottie's MVP season). “Sobrang sama ng pagkatalo namin na yun. Gusto ko kasi makapasok sa finals sa last year ko sa Perpetual. Sobrang discouraged ako noon,” he bares.
He did not give up on his hoop dreams, though, “naka-move on naman ako agad. Minotivate ko na lang sarili ko, inisip ko na may purpose kung bakit nangyari ito. Noong nag-champion ang Ginebra, dun ko nabalikan yung mga nangyari sa akin sa Perpetual na, siguro kaya hindi binigay sa akin ang championship noon, kasi dito pala Niya ibibigay. Sobrang blessed ako dun ako naniwala na talagang ibibigay Niya ang nararapat para sa iyo sa tamang pagkakataon.”
His family now gets to visit him here. He also flies back when he has the time, not only to visit them but also to check into his business, a barbershop in Davao del Sur.
Thomspon’s Sports Hair Shop specializes in cuts, shaves, and fades. “Kahit noon kasi, mahilig ako magpagupit. Lahat ng haircut sinusubukan ko. May mga design pa yan. Dati may naka-design pa ako na Nike sa buhok.”
When asked what kind of haircut he sports now, he chuckles and proudly says, “Thompson’s cut ito!”
He took up Business Marketing, he says, shifting from a Seaman course. “Ang dad ko kasi nasa barko. Ang hirap pagsabayin yung training ng Seaman at saka yung laro. Mahirap din yung pinapagawa nila sa training. Umaakyat ka ng barko. Hindi ko kinaya.”
If he did not get into the pro league, he would probably be involved in the family business of coconut buying. “Meron kaming niyog sa amin, tapos dine-deliver din sa amin yung niyog ng iba. Ang ginagawa namin, kami yung nagdadala sa malalaking buyer.”
On off days, he puts in extra time and works out at the gym. “Parang hindi sanay ang katawan ko na hindi ako pinapawisan sa isang araw,” he muses. He relaxes too, and this comes in the form of Playstation games (NBA 2k17, of course) and dates with his girlfriend (movies and food trips).
He has an explanation as to why he works so hard on the court. “Yun lang ang pwede ko ibigay sa team—yung sipag ko. Yung galing, siguro nakuha sa sipag yun. Kung ano kasi ang pwede ko ibigay sa team ko, kung ano ang maitutulong ko, kung saan ako magagamit, doon ako. Hindi ako napapagod, mas sinisipagan ko pa.”
He shrugs when asked about comments saying that he is the Next Big Thing in the PBA. “Hindi ko iniisip yun, kasi baka ma-pressure ako. Basta ginagawa ko lang ang pwede ko gawin at binibigay ko lang ang lahat para sa team.”
His coaches weigh in on his work ethic and winning attitude. Ginebra Assistant Coach Olsen Racela has praises for the all-around guard. “He is a high character guy who is very coachable and has tremendous work ethic. Maaga siya palagi sa practice and does a lot of extra work to improve on his weaknesses,” he says. “Definitely future siya of not just Ginebra but the whole league. He's the youngest player now and yet fan favorite siya because of his talent and his humility.”
During the FHM interview, Coach Tim Cone stood briefly at the sidelines and catcalled, “He’s lying!” He also couldn’t help roasting his player just a little bit. “He’s a jerk! He’s tamad!” His prized sophomore laughs.
On a more serious note, the winningest coach in PBA history says this of Scottie: “Truly he has an amazing work ethic. You can see it in the games, and what you see in the games is what you see in practice. He is tireless. He never gets tired, he just keeps putting out that work ethic that rubs off on everybody.”
Coach Tim also observes Scottie’s low-key attitude. “He is also very humble. I think that is his number one strength— he is not only a great player, but he is also humble about it and that makes him a great teammate. This makes the veterans accept him and all the popularity that he gets.”
It would be very easy for the veterans to resent Scottie, he adds, but he is such a nice guy and very humble so they are very accepting. “The only other player that I know like that throughout my career was Johnny Abarrientos. When Johnny came in, I had Bong Hawkins and Jojo Lastimosa, and he came and took the attention away from them. They didn’t mind, because he was so nice. It is the same with Scottie now, and that is what makes him so special.”