He stands a mere 5-foot-10, but inside him is a heart so large it spans state lines. He often recalls a cuddly younger brother, but inside him burns a fire stoked high enough to anneal steel. He looks as unimposing as a pair of well-worn brown shoes, but inside him resides a drive that has propelled him throughout a career that will soon end with him as the 'Cat career leader in games played and assists made. He is point guard Michael "Juice" Thompson, who sat down with NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski before heading off for his last Big Ten Tournament and went...
ON THE RECORD
The words of wisdom that I've lived by definitely came from my father. He said anytime I'm doing anything, make sure I give it 110 percent. Give my full effort, my undivided attention. Approach everything as if it's your last time doing it.
My dad, he works for Cook County. He's a Cook County sheriff.
He also worked side jobs as well. So, on some nights, he'd work a 24-hour day.
He would go to Cook County from seven a.m. until 3:30 and sometimes he wouldn't even come home. He'd go straight to his side job, work 10 or 12 hours there, and then go back to Cook County and work again.
It was tough him not being around a lot of days when I was younger. But as I got older, and he started taking less side jobs, I got to talk to him about it.
Just seeing how hard he worked to support our family, to take care of us, and still come out to support me and my siblings in our sports, that was a big thing. I learned my hard work from him.
My mom works for the United States Postal Service and I take a little bit of my hard work from her as well. She works late at night. She starts at about three a.m. and gets off at about 11 a.m., but some days she'll not come home until three or four in the afternoon.
I'm like, "Mom, when are you going to get some sleep?" She's like, "I'll
get some sleep after." Because some of those days she came to watch us
play our games as well.
When we first moved over to Rogers Park, Loyola Park was the first park district that we heard about from one of our neighbors. We grew up with one of their kids and are still good friends with them.
My brother was four years older than me and he was playing in a league at that time. I wanted to do anything my brother was doing, hang out with the older people and play with them. I saw how focused and how good he was at basketball, and growing up, I wasn't as good.
I wanted to be able to fit in with them and play with them, and so just watching those older guys be so good, that drove me to work hard so I could play with them and hang out with my older brother as much as I could.
Growing up, definitely my older brother was my hero. With him being four years older than me, he was in high school when I was in grammar school, he was in college when I was in high school. Just being able to get that advice from him about the next level, about what to do and what not to do, that was huge for me.
I think it was very important. It was significant. It helped my approach a lot. He was able to experience things, share things with me, tell me what he was able to do that made him successful and the bad things too, what not to do.
Having the upper hand with that knowledge going into high school, going into college, that helped me out a lot.
Whenever I have time, I try to hang out with the kids (at Loyola Park) and offer them advice. With them looking up to me now, I always have to set the way. Show them right from wrong. That gives me a huge responsibility. I definitely have to make sure I'm always on top of things, basketball wise, school wise.
No, never. My parents raised me the right way, myself and my siblings. And my father being a Cook County sheriff, you never wanted to do anything bad or get into trouble. Not only would you get in trouble with the law. You never wanted to come home to your parents after doing something bad.
With him being a Cook County sheriff, that would have just been triple the trouble.
Growing up at park districts, you're around a lot of kids. It's tough to see those guys doing the wrong things. But you have to make decisions, do what's best for your life.
I just chose basketball as my way of trying to get away from all that.
It happened in high school, sophomore year. Freshman year, I played pretty well, I was able to start on varsity right away. Sophomore year we got a new coach who had a lot of connections with colleges.
That's when I started receiving interest from a lot of colleges. That's when I thought, "OK. Maybe I do have an opportunity to go to college for free and get a full athletic scholarship."
That's when I decided basketball is something I want to do forever.
It's tough to train on Christmas. A lot of gyms are closed. But I definitely did train on a lot of holidays, pretty much every day that I could. I never wanted to be away from basketball. Basketball is a lot of fun.
Other holidays, like Thanksgiving and Easter and things like that, some park districts are open. So we were able to find some gyms we were able to get into and get some workouts in.
The workers there. Some gyms are open for a couple hours on those holidays and they're like, "What are you doing here? I didn't expect anybody to be here?"
I'm like, "I have to put this work in. I have to get better."
A lot of people take that time off. You never want to take time off when everyone else is.
Seventh grade, playing at Loyola Park, one team decided to play two-three zone. That day, we figured out how to break that zone and I made maybe 25-of-27 threes. At the time, everyone had a saying when they shot jump shots and I would say, "Juice."
I felt my jump shot was 100 percent pure.
I came up with everything for it and a definition for it. After that, the name just stuck with me.
I love it. It's a great name.
I took a lot of crap. Even to this day I take a lot of crap about being small. But I think that makes me the person that I am.
If I was any taller, I wouldn't be the same.
I always come around with a bounce in my step. People talk about me, say I'm so small I walk on my tippy toes to gain a couple of inches.
I just take that in stride and use it as motivation.
There's so many lines. A lot of times they just call me "The Midget."
A lot of times, in practice, ('Cat coach Bill) Carmody's like, "Why don't you just throw it over there to the little guy." He's always making an emphasis on how short I am.
Opposing gyms, I walk in, they're like, "All right, we're not going to let this little guy do anything. He's on TV. That don't mean anything. He's so short, we're just going to post him up."
Fans, especially when we go to away games, they say I'm too little to play, that I need the high seat toddlers get when they go to eat. They say I need phone books when I'm driving my car.
Michigan State, by far. They're there about two hours early, the Izzone (student section) is packed. They're right there on the court, they're harassing each and every person on our team.
I chose Northwestern because of the proximity. It was only 10 minutes away from home, so my family and friends could watch us play. The academics of it. It's just a great institution, one of the best colleges in the country. And I felt the basketball program was on the rise with the players here and the players coming in.
Everyone had the same goal. Turning around the tradition and the culture of Northwestern Basketball.
I think I had a pretty good level of comfort here at the time. But there were some times my freshman year, in conference play we won only one game, where everyone on the team went, "Wow, we're not winning. Are things going to change?"
It was a tough year. I wasn't used to losing that much and a lot of times I wouldn't be smiling at my friends. I didn't take a lot of phone calls, text messages or things like that.
That's crazy. I always have my phone in my hand, I'm always calling or texting somebody.
Definitely that was the toughest year of my college career. Or of my life.
Coming from a high school program with a lot of talent, we didn't win state or anything like that, but we won a lot of games. We had a winning tradition. Then coming into college and winning only one game in conference, that was tough.
I think we did a good job staying together as a team and erasing those thoughts.
Biggest regret of my career? I can't think of any regrets.
We definitely still have a chance (to make the NCAA Tournament with a magical run this weekend). But I still wouldn't trade in my experience for the world. Coming to Northwestern has made me a better person and I'm happy for all the relationships I've built with the students as well as my teammates and coaches.
A great night is winning a basketball game. Or even having practice and going to eat with the team after.
Hanging around with my teammates, there's always a lot of jokes, a lot of laughter. Just creating more memories, especially for a guy like me who's about to graduate, I want to take advantages of those opportunities as much as I can.
Laughter is a big thing in my life. I'm the biggest goofball, I think, ever. In the locker room, out with my team, with family friends, I'm always trying to make everyone laugh.
I find a lot of my jokes funny. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing.
Laughter's a great thing. It helps out a lot. Everyone's serious about the game. But it's always good to laugh and share laughter.
I've been this way since I was a kid. In grammar school I was in trouble a lot. We'd get a lot of phone calls at home because I was always making outbursts to try and make everyone laugh.
I was basically the class clown.
I think my dad, he's really funny. When we're at family events, he's the one making us all laugh. So I think I definitely get my humor from my father.
The biggest difference is I'm more vocal. My freshman and sophomore years, I wasn't that vocal. I deferred to Craig Moore because he was here two years prior to me coming here. He pretty much knew everything Coach Carmody wanted.
I was looking up to him and trying to learn from him as much as possible. When he left (before) my junior year, I had to step up and be more vocal.
I'm still learning to be more vocal.
The biggest thing I learned was how to control the game the way Coach Carmody wants it. Night in, night out, he can change up anything. He's just an offensive genius. In five seconds, he can think of an offensive play that's going to work. Night in, night out, we change our scheme and our approach to the game. Some days we want to push it up the court and some days we want to slow it down. I definitely think I have a good feel for that now.
Life in general? The way I approach things. As a freshman, you come in, you're rushing things, you're not organized. Now I'm way more organized and I just take my time with everything.
If I could invite anybody to dinner from history? It would definitely be Muhammad Ali. He's my favorite athlete of all time.
To this day I still watch a lot of his boxing matches. I love the way he talked to his opponents, tried to get the best of them. He was just a smart athlete and I try to emulate a lot of things from him.
I'd definitely ask him how did he come up with the Rope-A-Dope (during his 1974 heavyweight championship bout with George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire). I know he studied his opponents and studied the game like a lot of us athletes do now.
But I don't know how anyone could come up with that and it actually worked.