Hoyas are back, and Thompson hasn't changed

March 16, 1994|By Phil Jackman

The NCAA is so lucky to have Georgetown and John Thompson back in its tournament. Didn't you miss the Hoyas last year when they were absent for the first time in 15 seasons?

Welcome back, Hoya Paranoia, and particularly Coach Thompson. Ah, John, where is your team bivouacking for Friday night's game against Illinois in Oklahoma City, some military installation in Arkansas?

It has been a banner year for Thompson -- getting tossed out of a game, running up his usual total of technical fouls and serving as a spokesman for the Black Coaches Association during its threatened boycott of games and protest against something or other that isn't really clear to this day.

The coach was fairly quiet until last weekend's Big East tournament in New York, probably because his team was fading fast and appeared headed for another sojourn in "that other tournament," the NIT.

With victories over Boston College and Seton Hall, however, the G-men not only made the conference final, but the NCAA field. Gratitude is rarely forthcoming from Thompson, though.

After losing to his alma mater, Providence College, in the league showdown, Big John waited a day before deciding that his team had been jobbed by the officials. He cited the disparity in free throws offered the Friars over the Hoyas, 40-13, in the second half of the 74-64 loss.

"Disgraceful" and "insane" are the words the coach used in the process of explaining how the game was "not fair." He stopped short of accusing the officials of being against his team, instead preferring to blame it on the "fact" that the men were attempting to impress the folks who will pick the officiating crews for the Final Four in Charlotte in a couple of weeks.

Huh?

After watching Thompson's Georgetown teams for years, CBS' highly respected hoops analyst Billy Packer seemed to hit it right when he commented during the telecast, "If you're a team in the Big East and you're playing against Georgetown, assume you're going to get hammered if you drive at the basket."

And it has been that way since 1980 when the conference came into existence and Thompson, in effect, became a major contributor to the way big-time basketball is played in the Northeast nowadays. Previously, teams such as Syracuse, St. John's, Providence, Villanova and BC used a motion game with a premium on passing and shooting and a minimum on rough stuff.

It was Thompson who went the pressure game of UCLA's legendary coach John Wooden one better by introducing the slap, the scratch, the claw and your insurance better be paid up, fella, if you plan on driving the lane against the Hoyas.

Unfortunately, the style took hold, the rules makers and officials being unable to curb it, and the Big East teams had to modify the way they recruited and played or face extinction.

What else explains the way the stock of the league has gone down the past few years? Blue-chip players want to attend schools that play basketball, not a roughhouse game resembling a pickup game outside.

Another ploy Big John has made ample use of during the years is intimidation. At 6 feet 11 and 300 pounds, Thompson is about the size of the Smithsonian in Washington, and he can give you a look that melts your buttons. Combine that with the diving, give-up-the-body style of his players, and it's easy to see how opponents might not be too eager to mix it up.

One year, during the course of their Big East schedule, the Hoyas were involved in eight fights of varying degree of intensity. It might have helped the cause because they ended up as conference champs that winter.

Thompson also took umbrage with his best (only) outside marksman, George Butler, being whistled out of the game on a technical foul.

"These are young men out there. This is a championship game," Thompson said. "Warn him; don't hit him with a technical that gets him out of the game. Use common sense." Perhaps John should lecture his players similarly.

The game contained four technicals, one being charged to Thompson, and what Butler did is point at the official somewhat menacingly after the call.

There's no telling what the player meant by this strange reaction, but the official probably took it to mean he was being marked, as if for future retribution.

As the saying goes, it takes all kinds, and the G-men are, uh, different. Tighten your chin straps, Illini.

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