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

With a Sweet 16 Appearance in His Second Year, Thompson Reestablishes a Program — And Hoya Pride

It’s a scene familiar to any follower of Georgetown basketball. Game time is nigh and MCI Center is suddenly blanketed in darkness. Momentarily disoriented, fans are left to observe their surroundings only with the aid of the scoreboard lights until a solitary spotlight appears and guides their attention to left-center of the sideline. There stands a mass of players bobbing up and down and back and forth, feeding off the energy of the crowd. The announcer beckons every member of the audience to get on his or her feet and make some noise before introducing the starting five, always including a Big Man and a 6-foot-9 senior from Santa onica, Calif, number one, Brandon Bo-bo-bo-Bowman. The spotlight briefly wanders before settling on the figure pacing in front of the Georgetown bench, tapping his closed fist against an open palm. No matter whether the opponent is Savannah State (0-28 in 2004-05) or No. 1 Duke, he exudes a calmness almost unnatural for someone whose patience, intelligence, creativity and trust in his players and assistants are about to be put to their ultimate test before thousands of onlookers ready to judge his every move. The expression on his face remains unchanged when hundreds of boisterous gray-clad students hold up three fingers and chant his initials: two letters and a number that have come to define Georgetown basketball. When the lights come back on, Head Coach John Thompson III doesn’t cast nearly as long a shadow as his father, who dominated the Georgetown sideline and imposed his will on college basketball for 27 years as head coach of a program that came to be renowned as a Big East powerhouse. But the younger Thompson has a striking presence nonetheless, projecting coolness and determination. Following the biggest upset in Georgetown basketball history in nearly two decades or the unlikely and heartbreaking late-game collapse in the semifinals of the Big East tournament, he carried himself in a nearly identical manner. He matter-of-factly pointed out that Jan. 21 was only one day and that sometimes the stars have to be aligned for Georgetown to come away with a win. In two seasons, the 40-year-old father of three has won the respect of fans, fellow coaches and the national media. Two weeks ago the Hoyas’ coach was honored as coach of the year by the Black Coaches Association. And Georgetown is already projected as a No. 2 seed in next year’s NCAA tournament, thanks largely in part to the anticipated threats of Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert. Thompson has had great success in harnessing the raw skills of maturing athletes – Hibbert’s marked improvement in his sophomore campaign was a testament to this – and he has done well to attract the brightest young stars to the Hilltop, bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the nation to fill the void that will be left as Brandon Bowman, Ashanti Cook and Darrel Owens depart. The class of 2006 leaves finally having defeated the Orange and felt the rush of winning in the NCAA tournament. And Thompson has earned the total adoration and devotion of players recruited by a different head coach to a different program. “To me he’s like a father figure,” Brandon Bowman said in October. “It’s like having a parent away from home.” Though two years ago “Princeton offense” might have proved as incomprehensible a concept to his players as some international relations theories, Thompson has seamlessly implemented the fast-paced motion-based game as the Hoyas’ formula for success in one of the most difficult conferences in the country. In many ways, Thompson had his path cleared by his father. The elder Thompson often used his prominent position to take a stand on social issues, being one of the first black head coaches in any American sports organization. Oftentimes the elder Thompson loomed larger than his players on the court – despite the roster presence of such future NBA stars as Patrick Ewing, Dikembe utombo, Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson. “Pops has said many times that he never had the luxury of just being a coach,” Thompson told reporters in Dayton, Ohio, during the NCAA tournament. “If he had, he probably would have had a few more wins, a few more national championships.” The stark contrast between coaching styles of the father and son was a storyline upon which the media seized while looking for a way to present the resurgence of Georgetown basketball. It soon became clear that despite their differences, they share the common thread of success. The younger Thompson needed only two seasons to get his team to the Sweet 16, a task which took his father eight years. And he has ingrained in his players the importance of never being satisfied. The rising stars of Georgetown basketball understand that this season’s triumphant return to the NCAAs is only a small step in the right direction. Fans will undoubtedly take away two lasting images from the 2005-06 campaign: the floor of MCI Center crowded with students after the Hoyas managed to take down the top team in the country, and the father and son embracing following Georgetown’s victory over Ohio State to propel the program into the Sweet 16 for the first time in five years. If Georgetown basketball continues on its present course, there will likely be many more such victory hugs to come.

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