Hoyas' Thompson uses famous father to his advantage

Now Georgetown's coach, son of legend learned from dad, welcomes challenge

December 10, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- John Thompson III has lived with the questions and comparisons for a long time. He fully embraced them when he took on the task of reviving the Georgetown program that his father put on the basketball map.

"I'm my father's child all my life," Thompson said. "He has been a public figure most of that time, and it's something I'm used to. A lot of the questions I get now, I got when I was a player in high school, a player in college, and throughout my [coaching] career. That's the nature of my job, particularly now."

John Thompson Jr. turned Georgetown from a sleepy Jesuit college into a national power, fueling "Hoya Paranoia" with 596 victories over 27 seasons. Twenty years ago, he became the first African-American to coach an NCAA champion, feeding the dreams of Nolan Richardson, Tubby Smith and his own sons.

Ronny Thompson, once an assistant at Loyola College, is on the staff at Arkansas. His brother went into sales and marketing out of college and had to warm to his father's profession, but in quick order, Thompson III has put together a coaching pedigree the envy of most 38-year-olds.

At home, he learned from a man noted for his aggressive defensive principles, lessons that are reinforced nearly daily.

"It's not like he calls me every night with his words of wisdom on how to do my job," Thompson III said, "but at the same time, he had some success. He's a pretty good resource."

His other major influence has been Pete Carril, whose offensive principles provide a template not just for the Ivy League, but for teams from the ACC to the NBA. Thompson spent 13 seasons at Princeton, playing for Carril, going to work there as an assistant in 1995 and taking over as the Tigers' head coach in 2000.

"John is his own guy, but he's learned from some good ones," Georgetown assistant coach Robert Burke said. "You could argue that one [Carril] was the best offensive coach, and the other [Thompson Jr.] was the best defensive coach."

Thompson III will need all the X's and O's he can muster to turn around a program that hasn't beaten a Top 10 team since 1996.

Last night at MCI Center, top-ranked Illinois took control late in the first half and rolled to a 74-59 victory over Georgetown. Many of the 12,401 in attendance were wearing Illini orange, as the Hoyas haven't given their fans much to watch in recent years.

Thompson's father turned Georgetown into an NCAA regular, but got the Hoyas as far as the Sweet 16 only twice in the 1990s, when Allen Iverson was becoming a force.

Midway through the 1998-99 season, Thompson Jr. abruptly retired. Longtime lieutenant Craig Esherick was elevated and got Georgetown to the Sweet 16 in 2001, but that was the Hoyas' only appearance in the past seven NCAA tournaments.

Esherick was ushered out after a 13-15 record marked the first time they had missed out on postseason play since 1972-73, when Thompson Jr. went 12-14 as Georgetown's rookie coach.

His son could be headed for a similar debut, as Georgetown (3-2) has become something of an afterthought in the Big East Conference, home of the past two NCAA champions.

After a season-opening loss to Temple, Thompson Jr. commented on his WTEM talk show about the Hoyas' paucity of talent. There are projects like Roy Hibbert, a 7-2 freshman out of Georgetown Prep, and not enough veterans like Brandon Bowman, a 6-8 junior from California who is made for what has come to be called the Princeton offense.

"It's like I spoke Ebonics, and now I have to speak straight English," Bowman said of the adjustment to playing for Thompson III. "I will say that it's much better than what I thought was the `Princeton offense.' I'm thinking nothing but holding the ball, waiting until the last second to get a shot, but the structure of the offense creates open shots. You learn how to value the ball, and be precise."

Last night the Hoyas made eight of their first 11 shots and took a 22-17 lead, but Illinois adjusted and put on a motion clinic of its own.

"That's a terrific team with few flaws, but we could have played a lot better," Thompson III said. "Our team's young, but it needs to get better."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.