On Friday, coaches, donors, administrators and past and present Georgetown athletes gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking of the John R. Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletic Center.
After opening remarks from several distinguished guests, including major donor Irene Shaw, board of directors chair and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue (CAS ’62) and Director of Athletics Emeritus Frank Rienzo, University President John DeGioia introduced the guest of honor. Thompson approached the podium, good-naturedly waved away his standing ovation and began his speech.
Thompson’s tenure as head coach of the men’s basketball team from 1972 to 1999 was undoubtedly legendary, and he acknowledged during his remarks that Georgetown basketball overcame many obstacles during his time at the helm of the program.
He recalled walking through McDonough Arena shortly after being hired and being told that Georgetown was not ready for a black coach.
Twenty-seven years later, Thompson’s career is distinguished by 596 wins, 24 consecutive postseason appearances, a 97 percent graduation rate among his players and the program’s only national championship victory, in 1984.
Several of Thompson’s former players, including Patrick Ewing (CAS ’85), Alonzo Mourning (COL ’92), Dikembe Mutombo (CAS ’91) and Allen Iverson, sat in the audience, listening as he recounted their accomplishments and laughing as he poked fun at Iverson.
Thompson’s son, current Head Coach John Thompson III, said the day was special for his father’s former players.
“It’s human nature to focus on wins and losses,” Thompson III said. “But you see how special he is to them and what he’s meant in some small part to all of their lives. These guys aren’t all local; they’re from all over the country. The guys have come back just to be a part of today, so it just shows how he’s touched their lives, and they’ve touched his.”
Thompson himself also expressed how meaningful their presence was. “I have a lot of sons here right now,” Thompson said.
Other high-profile Hoyas in attendance included Roy Hibbert (COL ’08), Jeff Green (COL ’12), Greg Monroe and Otto Porter, all formerly coached by Thompson III. The current men’s basketball team sat close by, as did two highly touted Class of 2015 recruits, Dwayne Bacon and Bryant Crawford, both of whom were making their official visits on Friday.
The representation of Georgetown basketball’s past, present and future was a defining aspect of the ceremony.
“The former players … have always been an integral part of the program,” Thompson III said. “They have always been around in some way, shape or form. And so for our current team to see so many guys here today, I think they kind of understand how special Georgetown and Georgetown basketball is.”
Hibbert and Green each donated $1 million to the construction of the Center, and Ewing added another $3.3 million in a joint donation with longtime sports agent David Falk and his wife, Rhonda. These recent gifts bring the university closer to raising the $62 million required to complete the construction of the Thompson Athletic Center.
Athletic Director Lee Reed says that having these and other major contributors at the ceremony proved that the influence and dedication of the wider Georgetown community is capable of accomplishing remarkable feats.
“I think it’s reflected in the attendance here today that the university community really was ready for this project,” Reed said. “I think it was the right project for this campaign. I don’t want to say it was easy to rally people in support, but people were very generous with their time and their resources, and it couldn’t have been done without our entire community coming together. People don’t realize that we’re just a small school on a hilltop, but it takes our entire community to come together to make anything happen.”
The blueprints for the four-story, 144,000-square foot Thompson Athletic Center, slated to open in 2016, boasts a state of the art facility that will include practice courts and locker rooms for the men’s and women’s basketball teams, locker rooms for four additional varsity teams, weight training and sports medicine rooms, a new venue for the Georgetown Athletics Hall of Fame and a student-athlete academic center.
In addition to relieving scheduling conflicts and the current overcrowding at McDonough Arena and Yates Fieldhouse, the center will create a more competitive athletic atmosphere on campus and will rival the resources of much larger universities.
“At the end of the day, it’s when you’re recruiting against some of the best universities in the country, you do need some of the resources to assist [recruits] in their decision -making process,” Reed said. “I think this sort of levels the playing field for our coaches.”
Reed also affirmed that the center will serve to enhance the most essential elements that Georgetown Athletics has to offer.