WASHINGTON – When the Georgetown men's basketball team begins its season this fall,fans won't see a 6-foot-10 frame pacing up and down courtside. They probably won't see a white towel draped across anyone's shoulders. What they will see is Coach Thompson.
Coach Thompson III,that is.
Yes,the prodigal son has returned. John Thompson III,the 6-foot-4-inch son of the pacing,towel wearing former Georgetown Hall of Fame coach John Thompson Jr. has returned to the house that his father built in hopes of returning the Hoya program to the powerhouse it once was.
Thompson III,38,has vivid memories of growing up watching his father work. He pointed to the intense practices as his most enjoyable experiences. Now,instead of observing practices,he will be in charge.
“I'm extremely excited about the opportunity given to have this job and to hold this position,” Thompson III said in an interview at Georgetown's McDonough Arena. “I'm very excited about the future of Georgetown basketball.”
Before coming to Georgetown,Thompson III served four years as head coach at Princeton,leaving with a 68-42 record. He led the Tigers to three Ivy League championships,two NCAA tournaments and an NIT appearance. This past season,the Tigers went 20-8 and advanced to the NCAA tournament,where they fell to Texas in the first round.
Thompson III played for Princeton for four seasons in the late ‘80s under legendary coach Pete Carril. He left as the third all-time leader in assists and was one of the team's most valuable players his senior season.
For Thompson III,leaving a place where he grew into manhood and met his wife,Monica,was hard.
“It was a very,very difficult decision on many different levels,” Thompson III said. “Princeton and Princeton basketball is so much a part of who I am. It helped shape,make and mold me and is so much a part of how I think.”
Dick Myers,legendary head basketball coach at Gonzaga College High School here,coached Thompson for three seasons in the early ‘80s. He was pleased with Georgetown's decision and expects his former player to do well.
“The days of going out and finding a [Patrick] Ewing,[Alonzo] Mourning and [Dikembe] Mutombo aren't there anymore,” said Myers,who retired this season after 40 years. “You're going to have to get players who can play together as a team.”
Since Thompson III was named the Hoyas' 17th basketball coach April 20,he has had little time to rest. He's been involved with summer camps,recruiting and introducing himself to Georgetown faculty and staff.
Thompson III is also taking his coaching from the Ivy League to the Big East,one of college basketball's elite conferences. The two universities are similar in academics and prestige,but far different on the court.
“Obviously the overall talent level is different,” Thompson III said. “You're more under a microscope,the stage is larger and,in the end,once you walk on that court,it's our five guys against their five guys.”
The elder Thompson,interviewed after his daily radio sports show,said the biggest difference is that his son will be able to give scholarships at Georgetown,which is prohibited in the Ivy League.
“Most people lose sight of the fact that he's had to compete against schools based on selling the academics and the quality of the school in Princeton,” Thompson Jr. said. “He understands the challenges of being able to give scholarships now.”
Both father and son say they neither discussed nor thought about the idea of Thompson III one day becoming Georgetown's head coach. Thompson III said that,although every kid envisions following in his or her parent's footsteps,going away to school and working allowed him to become a part of a different program.
Thompson Jr. agreed.
“I knew he would get into coaching based on the fact that he'd been around it as much as he had,” he said. “I never can say that I consciously sat down and said that he'd be coaching at Georgetown though.”
Thompson III is aware he will be in his father's shadow.
“If you want to look at me as John Thompson's son,that's fine,” he said. “If you want to look at me as Coach Thompson,that's fine because I'm both.”
While Thompson III is not one to make predictions,he is confident his team will improve each day. This season,there will undoubtedly be glimpses of “Pops” along with those of Carril. Thompson III says he'll leave analysis to others.
“Both of them are clearly influential on how I think,how I see the game and how I understand the game,” Thompson III said. “Watching,you will probably see bits and pieces of both. You are a product of your environment.”