Oregon State’s Ethan Thompson sharing March Madness run with dad

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At the buzzer, Ethan Thompson found his father Stephen. They shared a hug and some tears, Oregon State’s star player and his coach/father celebrating an unlikely NCAA Tournament berth following three consecutive upsets in the Pac-12 Tournament.

“It’s moments like that,” Ethan recalled in a phone interview with The Post, “that are pretty sweet.”

Little did either know at the time, the Pac-12 Championship game was only the start of this miraculous March run they would share together. It was a jumping-off point for the 12th-seeded Beavers’ remarkable run to the Elite Eight — the school’s first trip this far since 1982 — an unexpected ride that has seen Ethan emerge as one of the big stars of this tournament.

In three tournament victories over No. 5 Tennessee, No. 4 Oklahoma State and No. 8 Loyola Chicago, the 6-foot-5 guard is averaging 20.3 points, seven rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. He outplayed projected lottery picks like Cade Cunningham, Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer, performing his best in those victories’ biggest moments. And the senior has done it with his father, an Oregon State assistant coach and former Syracuse star who played twice in the Elite Eight and once in the Final Four, right there with him.

“These are things when growing up as a little kid I know he’s dreamed of and I dreamed of it for him,” the 52-year-old Thompson said. “To see it all playing out in front of our eyes, and especially in the way it is playing out, is an unbelievable feeling.”

Oregon State
Oregon State’s Ethan Thompson (r.) and his father Stephen, who is an assistant coach/
Johnny Randazzo of Oregon State Athletics

Ethan and his older brother Stephen Jr. were born when their father was playing professionally in Japan. Stephen and his wife Amy didn’t want to force basketball on them, so they introduced a number of sports to the boys. In middle school, Ethan gave volleyball a try. But the brothers from Los Angeles wanted to play basketball like their dad, and he gave them all of his knowledge. On drives home from AAU tournaments, Stephen would break down nuances of the game for them and explain how important it was to work on their weaknesses, helping them both develop into four-star recruits.

His father was why Ethan picked Oregon State. He liked the idea of playing for someone he has the utmost trust and confidence in. During games, they can just make eye contact, and they know what each other is thinking. They will frequently be in the gym together before or after practice. Stephen’s even-keeled demeanor helps Ethan in tense moments.

“I think he kind of calms ‘E’ down,” teammate Warith Alatishe said.

Ethan and Stephen Jr. played together at Oregon State for two years, from 2017-19 before Stephen Jr. embarked on a professional career that has taken him to Italy, and there were big moments, but no NCAA Tournaments. This year expectations were very low. Oregon State was picked last in the Pac-12. It finished sixth in the conference, but was still at best an NIT team. Then came the conference tournaments, upsets over UCLA, Oregon and Colorado, and now three more victories in the tournament, with Ethan leading the way.

Stephen isn’t surprised. It reminds him of Ethan’s senior year of high school when he led Bishop Montgomery (Calif.) to a CIF Open Division state championship, defeating the likes of Sierra Canyon and Marvin Bagley, Chino Hills and LaMelo Ball, and Mater Dei and Bol Bol in that run.

“I’ve seen him rise to the occasion like this before,” he said. “And he’s done it here at Oregon State before. But it’s sticking out now because of the timing of what he’s doing. Don’t get me wrong. I’m humble. It’s unbelievable what he’s doing, but I know, and I knew, he had it in him.”

Stephen has been here before, as a player. He was a star guard for Syracuse from 1986-90, appearing in four tournaments. He was a reserve on the team that lost to Indiana in the 1987 national championship game and a key piece on the 1989 Elite Eight team that blew a seven-point halftime lead to Illinois.

March Madness
Oregon State guard Ethan Thompson hugs his dad, assistant coach Stephen Thompson after winning the Pac-12 championship.
AP

This, of course, is different. He’s coaching, not playing. His son is the one on the court. This, however, might be more poignant for that very reason. Stephen has never gotten this far as a coach. In his second year at Oregon State, it reached the tournament, but lost in the first round.

“Coming out of high school a McDonald’s All-American and going to Syracuse, you almost expected to have success in the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “Now being a coach for all these years, and having this run for kind of the first time, I’m probably as a coach even more excited. It’s more fulfilling now than it was then. And also to have your son be a part of it [makes it] probably more enjoyable.”

The next step will be arguably the toughest: No. 2 Houston and its stifling defense that is ranked sixth in the nation in efficiency. The Cougars made sure there wouldn’t be a Syracuse reunion by manhandling the Orange on Saturday night, eliminating what would’ve been an intriguing storyline. Stephen wouldn’t have minded it, granted he was certain of the result.

“I would’ve liked to face them if we were going to beat them for sure,” he joked. “I wouldn’t have liked to lose to them, I’ll tell you that.”

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