On March 19, a day before his team's second-round NCAA tournament loss to Arizona, Texas forward Tristan Thompson made a bold but apparently assured statement to reporters, including our own Pat Forde:
"I'm coming back another year," Thompson said repeatedly in the Texas locker room at BOK Center, where the team was going to practice in preparation for its Sunday round-of-32 game against Arizona. "I've already signed up for summer classes."
Turns out, Thompson might have spoke too soon.
According to a report by the Austin American-Statesman's Mark Rosner, Thompson has decided to go pro, per a source close to [Thompson's] family. An NBA scout familiar with Thompson's situation told Rosner much the same, while Draft Express's Jonathan Givony tweeted that Thompson's family has been "interviewing agents for a while."
On Thursday afternoon, Texas SID Scott McConnell told ESPN.com that Thompson's decision was not yet official, and that Texas had yet to be notified by Thompson whether he would enter the draft or return to school. Texas coach Rick Barnes could not be reached for comment.
In other words, there's still a chance Thompson could return to school and make good on his mid-March assurances to reporters. ESPN.com's Chad Ford lists Thompson as the No. 13 overall prospect in the 2011 draft, and with Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones all returning to school for their sophomore seasons, Thompson could be among the first forwards selected in June if he enters the draft.
Thompson's apparent decision is yet another example of a student-athlete who promises to return for another year before revoking that promise when faced with the attractive reality of an NBA future. Texas fans might feel a bit hurt by such a reversal, but it's nothing unusual. The skepticism regarding Sullinger's decision to return to Ohio State -- which came immediately following the Buckeyes' Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky -- was the appropriate response. Sullinger stuck by his proclamation, but he is the exception, not the rule. In the heat of a season, it's hard to fathom leaving your teammates.
Still, many took Thompson at his word, if only because highly-touted Canadian recruit Myck Kabongo, who is friends with Thompson and Longhorns point guard Cory Joseph, is set to arrive in Austin this fall; Thompson told reporters he would "come back another year for Kabongo" and that he'd "love to play" with his Canadian counterpart.
Perhaps most important, at least to Texas fans, is what the decision does to the Longhorns' frontcourt. Texas lost senior forward Gary Johnson this spring, and if Thompson is out of the fold, Texas's most experienced big man will be little-used forward Alex Wangmene.
As usual, Barnes has help on the way; incoming recruit Jonathan Holmes, the No. 10-ranked power forward in the class 2011, will have to make an immediate impact. But no player in Barnes stable will be able to match Thompson's dominating interior presence, and if Texas loses versatile small forward Jordan Hamilton to the draft, too -- Hamilton is currently weighing his options -- Barnes will be rebuilding his rotation from the ground up.
In any case, we'll wait and see until Thompson makes the announcement for himself. Until then, Texas fans will keep their fingers crossed. As of now, though, the chances of Thompson's return to Texas -- which seemed as likely as ever during the NCAA tournament -- are slim.