Longtime Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson couldn’t hide on the court.
He was a giant (6 foot 10) and loomed large on the college basketball scene as the determined leader of the Georgetown Hoyas.
Thompson also didn’t hide his ideas. When he had something to say, he said it.
John Thompson died at age 78 on Sunday. In recent years he worked as a basketball analyst on college broadcasts and also spent time as a talk-show host.
He will, of course, be remembered most for his successful run as the Georgetown bench boss, which included three appearances in the NCAA Tournament championship game (1982, 1984 and 1985). The University of North Carolina and Villanova defeated star center Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas in 1982 and ’85, respectively.
In between, Thompson guided Georgetown to a title in April 1984, beating the University of Houston, which featured another future Hall of Famer in Akeem (later spelled Hakeem) Olajuwon, 84-75 in Seattle.
The mindset of John Thompson
In The Associated Press’ game report, Thompson’s pride in his time was on full display:
“Hoya Paranoia is dead.
“Georgetown has nothing to fear anymore.
“Not that it ever really did, mind you. Georgetown’s NCAA championship basketball team wasn’t built on an adversarial relationship with anybody. It is the product of togetherness, under the tutelage of Coach John Thompson.
“ ‘We don’t need Hoya Paranoia,’ Thompson said Monday night after his Hoyas defeated Houston 84-75 in the title game at the sold-out Kingdome. ‘I have young men with personal pride and dignity … and if Hoya Paranoia makes us the way we are, somebody else better catch it.’ ”
The thrill of victory
In the aftermath of the championship win in 1984, Thompson reflected on what it meant to him.
“I’m extremely elated, because this has been an obsession of mine, to win the national championship,” he was quoted as saying in newspaper articles the next day. “I’d wake up from sleep sometimes thinking about it. Now I feel as if the monkey is off my back.”
He added: “I don’t want to be like (UCLA legend) John Wooden and win 10 of these. I just wanted to win one. He had to be an iron man to do what he did.
“Now I can concentrate on other things. I can think more about the kids and their needs.”
From 1972-99, John Thompson’s Hoyas won 596 games and lost 239.
The Hoyas appeared in 20 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and 24 straight postseason tourneys in all, including four more NIT trips.
As a result, Georgetown established a standard of excellence under Thompson.
A three-time Big East Conference Coach of the Year, Thompson was named the UPI Coach of the Year in 1987. The UPI accolade was presented from 1955 to 1996 in recognition of the top men’s basketball coach each year.
Four Hall of Famers — Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson — played for Thompson at Georgetown. Ewing released a statement in remembrance of Thompson. The other ex-Hoyas stars also paid tribute to him in various social media posts.
In a column he wrote after the 1984 NCAA Championship final, Steve Bisheff of the Orange County Register noted that Thompson played for two well-respected, defensive-oriented coaches during his time at Providence College and with the Boston Celtics.
“Dee-fense is what Thompson preaches,” Bisheff wrote. “If it isn’t entirely what won him the championship game, it is certainly what got him this far. And he rarely lets anyone forget it.”
Furthermore, Thompson’s comments added heft to that observation.
“I was very fortunate,” Thompson said, “to have played for coached like (Boston’s) Red Auerbach and Joe Mullaney, men who saw the joy and beauty of playing defense. And that’s what I try to convey to my kids.”
Which he did throughout his coaching career, and commanded respect in his chosen profession, as Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post observed.