More work to be done individually and with their team motivated Oregon State’s Ethan Thompson and Tres Tinkle to return to college basketball for another season.
The start of professional careers will still be there for Tinkle next year, and for Thompson in a year or two. But first there’s progress to be made.
Both declared for the NBA draft and hired agents to help them through the process, though each ultimately decided that more time and development at the collegiate level was the best route for them.
When the time came to decide whether to move on or stay, each had family members to lean on and ask for advice.
Tinkle is the son of Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle. His mom, Lisa, and sisters Joslyn and Elle Tinkle all played major college basketball. Thompson’s dad is OSU assistant coach Stephen Thompson, a former All-American at Syracuse, and his brother Stevie just completed a decorated four-year Beavers career.
“Sometimes growing up, you hear from your dad all the time. It’s good to get a little discipline from somewhere else, or at least another voice,” coach Tinkle said.
The process allowed both players to gain some feedback and learn what they need to work on moving forward.
Thompson, heading into his junior year, worked out for the Detroit Pistons and Sacramento Kings. The 6-foot-5 guard learned what they wanted to see and came away with some knowledge.
“I went into it with an open mindset,” he said. “Just trying to soak up all the information that I can from the next level, because my ultimate goal is playing in the NBA. What they’re looking for at the next level is just making the right play every single time and knocking down open shots.”
Thompson, who has started all 63 games the past two seasons, was the Beavers’ primary point guard this past season and saw his individual numbers take a boost from his freshman year.
His overall shooting percentage climbed more than six percent to 44.4, his 3-point number jumped more than two percent to 35.9 and his free-throw percentage improved by more than six percent to 79.7. He averaged 13.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 2018-19, all higher than the previous season while playing 2.2 minutes more per game.
On May 28, a day before the deadline to stay in the draft or return to school, Thompson participated in a pro day at UCLA in front of about 250 NBA representatives. He felt like he performed well and later that day was being contacted by several teams.
There was no certainty that he would be drafted or signed, but “I felt like me coming back for this next year will give me a better position to play at the next level,” he said.
Thompson said it wasn't a stressful decision, there just wasn’t much time to make it. After talking with his family and the agent he hired, he decided staying in Corvallis was his best option.
“I feel like I have the ability to play professionally somewhere. Just when and where were the two key things I was trying to focus on,” he said.
Thompson says he’s worked hard since the end of the season to improve, getting physically stronger and working on his ball handling.
“Being able to showcase my game with that type of confidence for a whole season would put me at a better standing when it comes time around this time next year,” he added.
Thompson said reaching the NCAA tournament — which he hasn’t done yet — is a goal. He believes last year’s disappointing finish, losing five of the last seven and missing out on the postseason, will be fuel for the team’s returners.
It’s also a goal for Tinkle. The Beavers got to March Madness when he was a freshman, but he didn’t get to play due to a foot injury.
The 6-8 Tinkle, who will be a fifth-year senior forward, is a two-time all-Pac-12 Conference first-team selection. Barring another injury, he's likely to become OSU's all-time leading scorer and finish in the career top five in rebounds, 3-pointers and free throws.
He dedicated himself to improvement last summer. Last season, he led the Beavers in points (20.8) and rebounds (8.1) for the second straight year and was second in assists (3.8) behind Thompson.
His overall field goal (.483) and 3-point (.329) shooting percentages improved over the previous season, though his foul shooting (77.0) dropped seven percent.
After working out for multiple NBA teams and it was time for a decision, Tinkle talked with his family, associate head coach Kerry Rupp, mentor and former collegiate star Luke Jackson and his agent.
Coach Tinkle said he and Tres shared some of the best coach-player and father-son discussions they’ve ever had. Wayne said he was careful not to influence Tres but instead share what he thought were in his son’s best interests.
“The thing that I really saw from Tres from the beginning to the end of that process was the level of maturity that he showed,” coach Tinkle said. “He really grew in those areas throughout the process.”
(Tres Tinkle was ill this week and unavailable for this story)