Gary ThompsonGary Thompson, 78, died Saturday morning. He played and coached at WSU, most notably leading the Shockers to the 1965 Final Four. Here is a Q&A with Thompson from 2005, when The Eagle did a series of five questions to mark the 100th anniversary of the basketball program.From 2005:Today’s subject: Former Shocker player, assistant and coach Gary Thompson. Thompson played for Shocker coach Ralph Miller from 1951-54. He was a three-year starter, averaging six points for the 1953-54 team that went 27-4 and played in the NIT. He became Miller’s assistant in 1957. Miller left for Iowa following the 1964 season, and Thompson took over and directed the Shockers to the Missouri Valley Conference title and Final Four in 1965. WSU went to the NIT in 1966 but had losing records in Thompson’s final four seasons. He coached seven seasons and finished with a 93-94 record. He was let go after the 1970-71 season.
Thompson, 72, is retired, although he remains a Pizza Hut franchisee, and lives in Coronado, Calif.
Succeeding Ralph Miller – what kind of experience was that?
“Ralph and I go back so far. I played high school ball for Ralph (at Wichita East) and worked for him at Wichita State for many years. He was a very, very close friend. He was such a successful coach, it was going to be a tough situation. Most coaches at the major-college level would rather go into a situation where it wasn’t successful. It was an honor for me to be picked as their head coach.”
What was your best victory as Shocker coach?
“I would have to say the Oklahoma State victory (1965) in the regional. It was the fact I got to coach against Mr. (Henry) Iba. I had so much respect for the man. I played against him as a player; to get to coach against him was very special. I had a hard time walking from my bench to his bench after the ballgame to congratulate him because I knew he wanted to go to that Final Four. Class gentleman. He was a great gentleman who meant a lot to college basketball.”
What did you learn from Miller as a player and assistant?
“My dad, I respected him more than anybody in the world, and then next came Ralph Miller. Not only as a working situation, but as a friend. He was always there for you. He helped so many young men in his career. Even after graduation, people would come back to him. He had a great amount of alumni feeling for him.”
Who was the best opposing player?
Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati, 1957-60). He was my first assignment as far as a scouting assignment. I went to Cincinnati as a young assistant. Ralph told me there was a guy named Robertson I needed to go see and see how we could stop him. I said, ‘Give him 50 and hope he doesn’t get 70. You’re not going to stop him.’ He’s just the best all-around basketball player I’ve ever seen. I don’t like to admit this, but my scouting pad was empty when I came home. His knowledge of basketball, and how to play it, and how to utilize his teammates and how to get 100 percent out of his God-given talent, was just superlative.”
Who is a Shocker player you coached who doesn’t get mentioned enough as a good player?
“The biggest surprise I ever had was Jamie Thompson (WSU forward, 1964-67). Jamie hadn’t played much until the time Dave Stallworth left at midterm (of the 1965 season). Somebody had to replace him as a starter. Jamie was 6-foot-4 and slow. He could shoot. As far as a young athlete getting the talent from his body . . . and the progression of the four years we had him, he stands out in my mind more than any athlete we had.”