It took Tristan Thompson 2 minutes and 47 seconds to get into Monday night’s game against Navy and an additional 2:49 to make his first mark on it.
Thompson came up with a loose ball in the low-post and went straight up for a two-handed dunk to give Texas a five-point lead early on.
“Once you get that first play … It just made me feel like ‘OK, I’m really in college now, I’m not in high school no more,’ so I was really excited,” he said.
He combined power moves like that with a deceptive pump fake and smooth turn-around jumpers.
The freshman led the Longhorns in scoring for the first half and finished with 12 points overall.
It was an important start for the highest-regarded power forward to come to Austin in years. There was concern over Thompson’s durability in the post but he stood his ground against the Midshipmen and finished with seven rebounds, just three boards shy of a double-double debut.
“It was very exciting, especially the first game. The jitters come in,” he said. “Once the game started and tipped off, I felt comfortable and happy to be here.”
He teamed up with senior Gary Johnson to control the inside, as Texas outscored Navy 40-26 in the paint.
“I think it’s because of my teammates,” Thompson said. “They make us feel real comfortable. We felt as one, like one of their brothers.”
In his first collegiate game, Thompson showed a diverse offensive skill-set and worked from down low as well as cutting through the middle of the lane. In addition, the Texas offense was more successful in the interior when Thompson took the floor as he opened up for room for Johnson and vice versa. The freshman finished with 25 minutes, third-most on the team.
“I think he’s got a chance to be an outstanding defensive player, not only around the rim but away from the basket,” said Texas head coach Rick Barnes. “He can block shots, he really can, he’s got a really quick hop off the ground.”
Tristan did not play a perfect game, going 4-of-10 from the free-throw line. He didn’t make a field goal in the second half and lacked a soft-enough touch near the rim at times. Still, he showed the type of promise and natural ability that made Barnes offer the 6-foot-10 Canadian a scholarship in the 10th grade.
“Tristan wasn’t ready a couple times. That’s again, the game’s a little bit faster than he probably would have expected,” Barnes said. “People are going to talk about his free throws but, again, I have no problem with that because he’s proven that he can make them. He will make them.”
Barnes even said Tristan had worked hard enough in practice to earn a starting spot but was kept out of the first five because of concerns about early fouls.
“He’s doing some good things. He’s got a good motor, he keeps it running,” the coach said. “It was a good experience for him.”