Georgetown names Thompson III coach

Son of ex-Hoyas coach leaves Princeton post

College Basketball

April 21, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Since Georgetown fired Craig Esherick after the end of the recent college basketball season, there have been rumors that the Hoyas would try to revive their once nationally prominent program with a familiar name, if not quite a familiar face.

Yesterday, those rumors became reality when John Thompson III - the son of the Hall of Fame coach who led the Hoyas to three Final Fours in the mid-1980s and to the NCAA championship in 1984 - was introduced as Georgetown's coach at a campus news conference.

"I am extremely fortunate in that I'm one of the few people in the world that can leave home, and can come home," said Thompson III, 38, who returns to his hometown after spending most of the past 20 years at Princeton as a player, assistant and the school's head coach for the past four seasons.

The program that he was around while growing up is far different than the one he inherits. As difficult a job as his father had in building the Hoyas into a perennial power by recruiting such future NBA stars as Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson, the younger Thompson has an equally daunting task ahead of him.

Georgetown was 13-15 last season, finished near the bottom of the Big East standings and ended with nine straight defeats, resulting in the termination of Esherick, who played for and coached under the elder Thompson before succeeding him in January 1999. The Hoyas made the NCAA tournament only once since, losing to Maryland in a Sweet 16 game in 2001, and were 103-74 overall under Esherick.

In announcing the hiring, university president John J. DeGoia said, "John Thompson is an ideal fit. ... He has a demonstrated record of success as a head coach and is committed to the values that have defined our tradition for a long time."

The younger Thompson coached Princeton to a 68-42 record, leading the Tigers to at least a share of three Ivy League championships and twice to the NCAA tournament, most recently this season when they lost an opening-round game to Texas in Denver.

Interestingly, Thompson III and his father are linked more by DNA than basketball genes. As a coach, the younger Thompson's greatest influence came from another legend, former Princeton coach and current Sacramento Kings assistant Pete Carril.

Thompson III's ties to Princeton were a lot deeper than those with Georgetown.

"As we went through this process, particularly coming down to the very end, it was as difficult a decision for me because I'm walking away from and leaving an institution that I truly love," said Thompson III. "Princeton basketball is such an integral part of who I am and what I am."

The younger Thompson recalled the time he spent around the Georgetown program growing up, going to games at the tiny campus gym or at the Capital Centre.

"I'm not sure whether the cheerleaders still sing this, but there was a chant, `We are Georgetown,' and I loved that," said Thompson III. "When you say that, it's the institution, it's the administration, it's the community, it's Washington, D.C., it's the other teams that are members of the athletic department.

"It's our program. That's what we have - a program, not a team. We are Georgetown. Some people have forgotten that we are Georgetown ... but we'll remind them."

Asked about the pressure of trying to follow his father's legacy, Thompson III said, "No offense, but I get that question all the time, since I've been playing junior high school ball. I've been John Thompson's son for 38 years and I'm pretty comfortable being John Thompson's son. No one is going to put more pressure on me than myself."

The elder Thompson, who attended yesterday's news conference before flying to New Jersey for his job as a television analyst on NBA games, tried to keep a low public profile during the search process. Whenever he was approached at the NCAA tournament, during which he worked on radio broadcasts, he declined comment.

His presence on campus yesterday was more in the role of proud father than prying former coach.

"I'm very proud of him, I've always been proud of him, anyway," said Thompson, whose other son, Ronny, is an assistant at Arkansas. "It's something that he wanted to do and he did it. It's something that he's fortunate to be in a position to do and I wish him well."

It isn't clear whether the younger Thompson will bring the patient Princeton style of basketball with him to Georgetown, as his predecessor, Bill Carmody, did in taking the job at Northwestern and as another former Princeton player and assistant coach, Joe Scott, has done more recently at Air Force.

"I'll do anything to win, pretty much," said Ashanti Cook, a sophomore guard from Inglewood, Calif. "If it works, it works. It if don't, then we'll just have to change it, I guess."

Just as Georgetown did in bringing in a familiar name.

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