'Role player' Scottie Thompson turns himself into MVP -- again

Scottie Thompson was named the 2021-22 PBA Most Valuable Player at Sunday's Leo Awards, after a stunning season which saw him help Barangay Ginebra win the Governors' Cup. PBA Media Bureau

It was just like the first time. But better. Bigger.

Barangay Ginebra's Scottie Thompson, the newly-minted PBA Most Valuable Player for the 2021-22 season, has been here before, proving hard work pays off. It's just that the mountain he climbed this time around was that of the PBA.

The trophy he raised above his head in the middle of the Araneta Coliseum floor last Sunday was the icing on the cake for a campaign that already had him winning a Best Player of the Conference (BPC) award, a championship, and a Finals MVP plum.

At season's end, the debate on who deserved to be called top player between himself and Mikey Williams was believed to be too close to call. Come the final result, however, it looked like it was never in question.

Thompson totaled 2836 votes coming from stats, players, media, and the league office. On the other hand, Williams had 1332 to his name. Even if the third-placer's votes (Robert Bolick with 1295) were added to the TNT star, they'd still fall behind the Ginebra playmaker, who's now, the MVP. Not bad at all for a self-proclaimed role player.

"Hindi naman ako talagang scorer," he expressed after winning BPC last April. "Nagulat ako kasi pwede palang makakuha ng ganitong award yung mga role player."

The 6-foot-1 guard referring to himself as a role player is selling, well, his role short. He may be one of just a handful of players who can turn rebounds into highlights, or game-changing plays. Remember when his offensive rebound over import Tony Bishop in Game 2 of the 2022 Governors' Cup Finals took the fight out of Meralco -- and ultimately, pulled the plug in the Bolts' season?

Rebounds, playmaking hustle, energy, and all the intangibles you can ever think of -- which are then now coupled with much-improved shooting -- and it's safe to say Thompson is far from a role player. At the same time, though, he's not wrong. He'll never be the designated scorer for Ginebra, as his career scoring average of 14.7 points attests. What he'll do game in and game out, is his role: be Scottie Thompson.

He reiterated the same message as he talked to reporters after being recognized as MVP. This time, though, he also forwarded a message of inspiration -- especially for young talents who dream of doing what he has done.

"From the start pa lang ng Ginebra career ko, role player lang ako. Talagang ang ginawa ko lang is hard work and discipline," he remarked. "Sana, ma-inspire ko yung mga kabataan ngayon na 'di lang pagalingan ang basketball. Basta may puso, disiplina, and hard work, 'di malabong makukuha rin nila ito."

Not that long ago, the now-28-year-old was himself a youngster with a PBA dream. Growing up in Digos, Davao Del Sur and then opening eyes while playing for Region XI in the Palarong Pambansa (National Youth Games), it was University of Perpetual Help that gave him his biggest break.

In his first year in the NCAA, he was an energizer off the bench for the Altas before raising his game to the point he was hailed as Most Improved Player in his second season. Thompson struggled in Year 3 for Perps before bouncing back in the biggest way possible, emerging as MVP in his fourth campaign with per game counts of 17.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 5.8 assists. Still, he remained quite the unknown quantity, and was still called 'Earl', his first name, by just about everybody.

Nonetheless, the fire and desire that have come to define his identity were there -- and were always there. Two teammates, who can boast of being MVPs in their own right, were firsthand witnesses to that.

"He never liked being called a star player because being called a star takes the hunger out of you," recalled Prince Eze, the NCAA MVP in 2018 who played one year with him. "He likes to make up for whatever's missing in the team. If the team lacks points, he'll step in. if the team needs more rebounds or assists, he's there too. That's just what he does."

"He is a role player, and he's proud of that," seconded 2018 UAAP MVP Bright Akhuetie who also got to share the floor with him for one season. "He's the kind of player who makes everyone look good. He creates for his teammates, plays good defense, hustles on both ends of the floor, and most importantly, gets crazy rebounds. That's both offensive and defensive!"

How Thompson is called has changed. Now, he's 'Scottie' -- or more fondly, 'Iskati'. Still, how he answers any and every call stays the same -- with urgency, with heart, with energy, with hustle. So much so that, from the get-go, he had no problems winning over Tim Cone, the no-brainer greatest coach in PBA history, who has a well-known tradition of bringing rookies along slowly.

Beginning from the bench despite being drafted fifth overall in 2015, he worked his way into Cone's rotation, slowly but surely. Once he was there, he was never leaving. His motor was too worked up to put on clamps. His mind was too made up to be turned back. And just like he did with Perpetual in the NCAA, he transformed from role player to MVP for Ginebra in the PBA.

"Speechless. 'Di pa rin ako makapaniwala. Truly honored and blessed ako," he stated. "Lahat ng nangyari sa buhay ko, on and off the court, na-manage ko yun. 'Di ko ni-let go yung hard work and discipline, kaya rin nandito ako ngayon."

Thompson is the first guard and the first Gin King to be awarded with the top player prize since Mark Caguioa in 2011-12. At the close of "The Spark's" career, he had nine championships and one MVP award to his name.

'Iskati' hopes to match, or even just come close to, all that -- he already has the one MVP trophy, as well as six championships, after all.