Making sure we pay much respect to those recently departed, the NU Sports class of 2012, in which I try not to go overboard with the waxing nostalgic, but probably will. First off, Michael "Juice" Thompson
Why he'll be missed: Heart and offense. I spent three years ready to shoot the next commentator/columnist who said something along the lines of "HE'S THE SMALLEST GUY ON THE COURT BUT HE HAS THE BIGGEST HEART GET IT HE'S 5-FOOT-... well, let's say 10", but as far as douchey cliches go, it wasn't inaccurate. It's impossible to mention Juice without his height, and it's impossible to discuss his importance to Northwestern without the fact that he was out there wiling, willing his team to pretty much every W of his last two seasons.
A point guard leader in an offense with no real room for one, Juice made himself impossible to take off the court. As Bill Carmody made jokes about how "somebody has to lead the nation in minutes!", Juice played the entire length of 25 games (!) over his final two seasons, including five overtime games. (The only reason he didn't play more was because of blowouts.) That's absurd. And it made sense. Because without him, the team was rudderless: Juice was a deadeye shooter - he shot a career-low 39 percent his senior year - Thompson was the guy who ended up with the ball with five seconds or less on the shot clock more often than not, and more often than not, he found ways to make that work. And with the exception of Luka's Euro-yelps, Juice was the dude most likely to be inciting the crowd: screaming stuff from the floor after drawing an and-one, running back on defense after nailing a three.
When you take into account his 5-foot-well, let's say, 9, frame... well, it's impressive. I don't know how he got those shots off being as good a shooter as he is and as small as he is. It boggles the mind. Nor do I understand how he was able to finish in traffic so frequently, either by just going hard to the tin or putting up a floater. It's going to be tough to replace his natural talent for putting the ball in the hoop. He also led NU in assists, you know, all four years here, as the most skilled passer on the team, hands down, finding dudes on backdoor cuts in ways other players couldn't. That sound you hear is all of us gulping as loud as we can wondering how NU can function without an extremely potent scorer as well as its best passer, who happened to be the team's emotional leader.
Yo Rodger, what are your favorite types of juice?
1. Martinelli's Apple
2. 12% JOOSE, preferably watermelon or the other green one with the horrible aftertaste
3. Juice Thompson
4. 9% JOOSE, preferably the red one, but "Dragon" is also acceptable for its distinctive dragon taste
5. The stuff that comes with Italian beef sandwiches that you're supposed to let it soak in that's so damn good
7. Other types of apple
8. Former Illinois QB Juice Williams
9. Lime, for its use in mojitos, which as a Cuban I am compelled to enjoy
10. O.J. Simpson
11. All other types of juice except orange
What's wrong with orange juice?: It's gross.
Really? Everybody likes orange juice: I don't, okay? Can we get back to Juice Thompson?
Nah, this is important. Who doesn't like orange juice?: Me. I don't. I don't like any form of citrus fruit and never have. Let's talk about basketball some more.
K. What was that weird thing you said about the Princeton Offense not having room for a point guard leader?: One of the things I've always found impressive about Juice is his role as the predominant passer/creator/everything in NU's offense, where there's no real script for a Princeton PG doing that. A Princeton PG gets the ball across halfcourt, enters the ball into the offense, and then, he's a little "1" on the play diagram. When we think "point guard", a couple of things jump into our head: Steve Nash, coming off the pick and roll with intent to murder. Derrick Rose, viciously assaulting people off the dribble and creating openings in the offense. Princeton PG's don't do that. In theory, they're just as important to assisting the ball as any other player. Juice wasn't: the offense revolved around him making plays with the ball. When you think about the offense's nature as a Princeton system, that makes his play all the more impressive.
Nah, but, seriously, what's up with you not eating citrus fruit? Isn't that bad for your health? Shouldn't you have like a vitamin C deficiency or something like that?: Dude, I'm not gonna contract scurvy. I'm not an 1840's pirate.
List your Juice Thompson names, ranked by order of importance:
1. Juice: The story we heard about a million times about how he got his nickname - because he said his shot is pure! - isn't as cool as it could be - "WHEN HE WAS 13 HE PLAYED FORMER CHICAGO BULL DICKEY SIMPKINS FOR A JUICE BOX AND BEAT THE CRAP OUT OF HIM SO EVERYBODY STARTED CALLING HIM JUICE", or, you know, "other people started calling him that and not himself" would be cooler - but it's still awesome.
2. Michael: Did any Northwestern fan ever call him this?
3. The Juice: Bill Raftery, aware that his nickname was juice-related but apparently unsure of what it was, insisted on calling Thompson "The Juice" for the entirety of a Northwestern-Illinois game. Nobody called him out on it. Although he did mention "sipping" one time, so it's a win for the site.
Key moments: What I'll take away from Juice at NU is his grand finale: with each game down the stretch of his senior season potentially his last, he made it clear he wasn't much of a fan of losing. In Juice's final nine games, he sat for a total of three minutes. Three. Out of the last 290 (OSU and WSU went into OT) game minutes of his career, Thompson played 287 of them.
And he averaged 21.2 points in those games. And averaged almost four threes a game. And hit all 36 of his free throws. As a not-quite-enough regular season bled into a potentially dismal postseason, he made sure it wasn't so: he set a Big Ten tourney record against Minnesota with a career-high 35 points including five threes, drained four more against Milwaukee, then six-of-12 for 22 points against BC.(Yeah, six.)
Juice pretty much guided NU through the 2010-11 season, so it's weird that my primary memory of him comes from the 2009 Michigan State game. Fresh off hitting a three with the clock running out, Thompson found himself in the same situation: the ball got kicked out to him, approximately 35 feet from the rim, with seven seconds on the shot clock. When he caught the ball, his feet were planted firmly on the eastern coast of the lower peninsula of Michigan on MSU's floor. It's the range where you shouldn't shoot from. Where you can not guard the other guy, and it's okay, because if he shoots it, he's crazy. Where I only shoot from when I have nine in a game to 11, and I know the other guy is going to prevent me from taking any regular three.
Of course, he took a step in and launched. Being only 5-foot, well, let's say seven, the defender still got a hand up. But from the lower peninsula, he swished it, after 30 feet in the air. It's what we came to expect: in Thompson's hands with time running out... and things still working out alright.
In conclusion: Juice will probably take his career to the continent and play in Europe somewhere, although he hopes to return to the US to play in the NBA as a J.J. Barea-esque vertically challenged sensation. Until then, follow him @Juicethompson22. He'll be missed. May juice continue to flow, on this continent or otherwise.