Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Op-Ed: It’s Time to Take Thompson Off the Pedestal

Georgetown finally solidified itself as an NIT team earlier this week (yes, we will be subjected to at least one more game of nearly-unwatchable Hoya basketball this season) and something finally needs to be made clear.

John Thompson III is not a great coach – just a decent one.

Obviously, no one can discount the 2007 Final-Four run (Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert were not Thompson’s recruits, by the way), the back-to-back Big East regular season championships, or the highly-touted recruits that have begun to flock to the Hilltop since he was hired in 2004. Add that early success to the fact that Thompson happens to be the son of the winningest coach in Georgetown history and you have the makings of the cult-hero status that seems to have been attributed to him.

Walk the concourse inside Verizon Center and you’ll see Georgetown fans wearing “JTIII is my Homeboy” t-shirts and shirts that depict him in the same light as Barack Obama.

The back of Hoya Blue’s student-section t-shirt is even dominated by the Roman numeral for the number three.

If you didn’t know any better, you would think that Thompson was in his 20th year at the helm. In reality, he is just about to conclude his fifth.

This is how it often works in sports: win out of the gate and receive a lengthy free pass. If Derek Jeter strikes out with the bases loaded, Yankee fans with fond memories of the great teams from 1996 to 2001 turn the page and move on. If Alex Rodriguez does the same, it is a radically different story. Head Coach Mike Shanahan won back-to-back Super Bowls with John Elway and the Broncos and he has been considered an NFL guru ever since – despite winning just one playoff game in the 10 years he coached in Denver after Elway retired.

Similarly, Thompson has flaws that are often ignored because, as some might point out, he brought his team to the Final Four in his third season. This should no longer be the case. Thompson’s winning percentage as the head coach of the Hoyas (.699 as of March 10) speaks for itself, but the bad must be taken with the good.

After conversations throughout the 2008-2009 season with many students who really know the game (a group that is unfortunately in the minority among Georgetown students), it seems like there is at least some concern for the way in which Thompson’s offense does not fit his personnel. Is it really the best idea to park your best low-post player at the top of the key just as often as you have him with his back to the basket in position to do what he does best? Both Hibbert and Greg Monroe have played far too unselfishly as the point forward within Thompson’s scheme. Quite frankly, the Georgetown offense seems to minimize the athletic talent of which the ’08-’09 team has an abundance. Instead of utilizing its plethora of athletic ability, Georgetown settled for rotating the ball around the perimeter and forcing three-pointers, of which the Hoyas only made 33 percent for the season.

The Hoyas boast four starters that were high school all-Americans of some variety (Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, DaJuan Summers and Monroe). The same type of athleticism was present on last year’s squad, a bona fide national title contender that was unceremoniously undone by Stephen Curry and Davidson in the second round of the NCAA tournament. As the team’s main offensive weapon, Hibbert saw his NBA Draft stock plummet during his senior season. While his own inconsistent and passive play had a great deal to do with that, the offense in which he was playing also played a role in his decline in production. Although Hibbert’s three-pointer to defeat Connecticut nearly blew the roof off of Verizon Center, I could not help but wonder why a 7-foot-2 low-post weapon was loitering in the backcourt in the waning moments of a tie game in the first place. Monroe spends much of his time outside of the paint as well. The comparisons between a Patrick Ewing or an Alonzo Mourning and a Hibbert or a Monroe are irrelevant because of the offense in which the last two Hoya centers have played.

Additionally, I would love to see a video montage of Georgetown’s offensive sets coming out of timeouts this season. Let’s just say it would not be included in an instructional video. Take the end of Tuesday’s loss as just one example. With about 15 seconds left, Freeman (really?) took the inbounds pass, dribbled slowly into the backcourt while Wright, Summers and Jessie Sapp congregated to the left of the paint, and quickly found himself near the other sideline with limited options. As time shed from the clock, the ball found its way into the hands of Nikita Meshcheriakov, who proceeded to clang a corner three-pointer off the side of the backboard. An ugly/comical end to an ugly game.

The Hoyas’ so-called press break is also baffling. It seems like the Georgetown guards continually improvise in order to get the ball over the timeline in less than ten seconds. A Georgetown fan I spoke to described it as “CYO-style.”

Other questions can be asked about what has transpired this season. If your five best players logged the majority of the minutes in a signature win on the road against UConn, why experiment with your bench in the next game against Pitt, a blowout loss at home? Why stick with Mescheriakov even when his effectiveness became virtually nonexistent as the year wore on? Why not use Monroe and Henry Sims together more often to combat your chronic rebounding woes? Why not tweak the offense when it grinded to a halt and the backdoor was seemingly bolted shut toward the end of the regular season? Why not use the team’s speed and athleticism to your advantage and attack opponents with a full-court press? In what way did the zone defense contribute to Georgetown’s futility in boxing out on rebounds? Why not start Jessie Sapp, a fan favorite and a hard-working, loyal player, on Senior Day against a team that was 0-18 in the conference at the time? By nature, a 16-14 season requires some second-guessing.

To be fair, Georgetown’s struggles since that tantalizing demolition of Connecticut on December 29 certainly have had a great deal to do with the youth and inexperience up and down the roster and the inability of Summers or Sapp to become the Hoyas’ go-to guy. Yet a 10-1 team that looked like it might soar above expectations has gone 6-13 since. As the season has progressed, these young Hoyas have seemingly regressed. Tuesday’s performance gave fans no reason to be excited about having virtually the same team (minus current seniors Sapp and Bryon Jansen) coming back next season. Indeed, the consistent inconsistency that we saw down the stretch in 2009 ultimately goes back to the coaching staff.

This is not an attempt to bash Thompson and pile all of the blame for a disappointing season on him. Youth and inexperience, as I have already said, an extremely strong Big East conference, and the nation’s most difficult schedule are major reasons why the Hoyas are headed to the NIT. I am simply trying to paint an accurate picture of a coach that has somehow grown in less than five years into a Georgetown legend that can do no wrong.

There can be no doubt that Thompson is a humble and respectful person that represents the university with class and is a calming presence on the sidelines. Yet his in-game strategy can and should be questioned from time to time, especially when his team is mired in a three-month-long slump. Despite the overtures of Hoya Blue and others in the campus community, he is not immune from criticism nor is he some all-knowing basketball deity. The 42-year-old Thompson is who he is: a pretty good head coach about to finish his ninth year in his profession who still has some things to learn.

And we don’t need a t-shirt to tell us that.

Dave Finn is a sophomore in the College and an assistant sports editor for THE HOYA.

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