"David will be all-pro the first season," says Sloan. "He's worth more money than any player ever. Not just because of his basketball ability, but also because he's the kind of young man he is. You become a better person just by being around him."
David Thompson is special, whether on the court or off. Since coming to North Carolina State he has played in 108 games, of which his team has won 105. He remains, refreshingly, as considerate as ever, giving freely of his time to those who call upon it, from prisoners to reporters. He rarely says no. "The demands have been great, but overall it's been nice," he says. "I'm in no hurry to leave."
This is not the same reticent youngster who arrived on the North Carolina State campus three years ago. He accepts the acclaim and attention more naturally now. Without being a show-off, he has the showman's ability to please the paying customers.
Thompson claims no special stature for himself, but he recognizes talent in others. "Great players can just play their normal games and be very good," he says. "Those are the ones who have the ability to make basketball an art. It comes natural for them. But not for me—I have to work at it."
His close friend, tiny playmaker Monte Towe, says, "David is always one of the first to want to play a pickup game. He's worked hard to refine his skills. He doesn't try to be showy. He just goes out to win."
Thompson has gone out to win 58 times as a varsity player and he has failed only once. His graceful presence all but guarantees similar success this year, despite the loss of Center Tom Burleson from last season's lineup.
For a while Burleson seemed suitably replaced by Tommy Barker, another 7-footer and the nation's outstanding junior-college player last year. But Barker changed his mind about coming to State and ended up in Hawaii instead.
Without the services of a "receiver," as Sloan calls the Maypoles in the middle, the Wolfpack is a different team, though not necessarily a lesser one. State was able to test a speedy, pressing lineup of two guards and three forwards in the Far East and again in September against the Russians. After coaching 13 victories in 14 games Sloan felt quite pleased with the adjustment.
The 5'7" Towe will once again beat presses, bomb from outside and defy all reason in the process. And underrated Moe Rivers now has a chance to gain some identity. "I can understand being in the shadow of David and Monte, but don't forget I've got some natural talent," he says earnestly.
The three forwards are Thompson, left free by Sloan to do what he wants when he wants, 6'7" senior Tim Stoddard and either 6'8" junior Phil Spence or 6'7" freshman whiz Kenny Carr.