Sunday, March 19, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Mikey Thompson’s current home-court gym seats about 1,200 people and wouldn’t look out of place in most high schools throughout America, up to and including the on-court lines designating the volleyball area.
Thompson has plenty of opportunities to get a good look at Sportcentrum Arena, too, because the Canyon Springs High graduate lives in the multisport facility in industrial Ústí nad Labem, Czech Republic, where he’s realizing his dream of playing professional basketball.
“I love it because I have access to the gym,” Thompson said. “It’s set up like any other apartment, really.”
Basketball already has taken Thompson a lot of places, and now the goal is to see how far he can take the job. As a starting guard for Sluneta Ústí nad Labem in the Czech Republic’s National Basketball League, Thompson has found a good situation with ample playing time less than a year after finishing his collegiate career at Boise State.
Meanwhile, he’s figuring out how to live in a foreign country while keeping up with a family that’s mostly nine hours behind him.
“I have a really big family that I love so much and that will do anything for me,” Thompson said. “Now I have the chance to give everything back to them and allow them to be able to travel and see the world just like I am.”
Thompson started games in all four seasons as a Bronco but didn’t truly emerge as one of the team’s best players until last year, when he averaged 11.9 points and 3.8 assists per game. He gives a lot of credit to former Boise State assistant Jeff Linder, who’s now leading Northern Colorado, for pushing him and making Thompson realize they were chasing the same goal.
“I did not understand that until my senior year of college,” Thompson said. “Now that I look back at everything that he has told me, he just wanted the best for me and for me to understand that if I wanted to be the best, I would have to do things other players did not like to do, and that is work hard and make sacrifices.”
In the Czech Republic, those sacrifices include rarely sleeping past 7 a.m. and putting in an exhausting amount of extra gym time. Smaller sacrifices include getting used to meals recommended by his teammates, “which look kind of weird but taste pretty good,” Thompson said, adding that food is a hot topic whenever he talks to his mother, sisters or former teammates.
Another one of Thompson’s mentors was his father, Freddie “Machine Gun” Thompson, a former Las Vegas high school legend and UNLV Rebel in the 1970s. With Freddie as an assistant coach, Mikey helped lead Canyon Springs to the state title in 2011, an indelible memory for the father and son who shared basketball as a passion.
Freddie died of cancer in April 2015, and Mikey dedicated his senior season to his father.
“If there is any moment that stands out,” Boise State head coach Leon Rice said, “(it’s) when UNLV honored his dad before our game down there his senior year — the way he handled that situation, and even embraced it, really epitomized his growth and the maturation he went through.”
Now that growth is taking Thompson to courts across the Czech Republic and around the world. His journey started in March right after Boise State’s season ended, as he earned a spot on the NetScouts Basketball USA All-Star team, which traveled to China and won a four-team tournament against Canada, Lithuania and the host country.
That experience helped give Thompson a taste of what to expect when he signed his first professional contract last summer with MBK Baník Handlová in Slovakia. As is often the case in European leagues, though, the situation didn’t work out and Thompson’s agent helped facilitate a mid-season change to Sluneta.
Through 15 games for Sluneta, Thompson has ranked second on the team in points (14.5 per game), third in minutes (27.3) and posted an impressive 53.6 effective field goal percentage. He could be one of the catalysts in pushing Sluneta into the NBL playoffs in April.
If it doesn’t happen, then Thompson will get an early start on an offseason of more early mornings that he hopes will lead him to more gyms around the globe.
“I want to be able to show kids that anything is possible if you commit to something and work hard at it,” Thompson said. “I knew I could be a professional ball player early; it was a matter of how much I really wanted it and what I had to sacrifice to get to this point and further on.”