Profile: John Thompson (1941)

 

John Robert Thompson Jr. (born September 2, 1941) is a former American college basketball coach for the Georgetown Hoyas. He is now a professional radio and TV sports commentator. In 1984, he became the first African-American head coach to win a major collegiate championship, capturing the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship when Georgetown, led by Patrick Ewing, defeated the University of Houston 84–75.

Early life

Thompson was born and raised in Washington, D.C., and is a practicing Roman Catholic.  As a child, his mother insisted on sending him to Catholic schools for the educational opportunities and academic challenges. At Archbishop Carroll High School, Thompson emerged as a standout center, playing in three consecutive City Championship games (1958–60). In 1959, Carroll All-Mets Thompson, Monk Malloy, George Leftwich and Tom Hoover won over Cardozo 79–52. The next year, Thompson and Leftwich led the Lions over the Ollie Johnson/Dave Bing led Spingarn, 69–54. During his senior year, Thompson led Carroll to a 24–0 record, preserving their 48-game winning streak along the way. Carroll capped off the undefeated 1960 season with a 57–55 win over St Catherine’s Angels of Racine, WI in the Knights of Columbus National Championship Tournament with Thompson pacing the Lions with 15 points. Thompson finished the season as the top scorer in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, averaging 21 points per game

Playing Career

After graduating from Archbishop Carroll, Thompson went to Providence College, where he played on the 1963 NITChampionship team with Ray Flynn, and was part of the first Providence NCAA tournament team in 1964. He was an All-American in his senior year of 1964. Upon graduation, Thompson was the Friars’ all-time leader in points, scoring average, and field goal percentage, and second in rebounds. Currently, Thompson is 11th on the all-time scoring list at PC, fourth in scoring average, sixth in field goal percentage, and third in rebounds.

He was drafted in the third round in 1964 and played two years in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the Boston Celtics in 1964–1966. At 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m) and 270 lb (120 kg), he backed up Bill Russell, the Celtics star center, en route to two championships. Nicknamed “The Caddy” for his secondary role to Russell, he averaged 3.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 74 games played. He retired in 1966 to begin a much more successful career in coaching.

Before retiring as a player in 1966, Thompson was selected by the Chicago Bulls in that year’s expansion draft.

Coaching career

Georgetown 

Thompson was the head coach at St. Anthony High School in Washington, D.C. from 1966 to 1972, racking up a 122–28 record.

After coaching St. Anthony, Thompson was hired to become the head coach of the men’s basketball team at Georgetown University, where he spent the remainder of his Hall of Fame career.

Thompson, an imposing figure on the sidelines who towered over many opposing coaches (and players, for that matter), was often noted for the trademark white towel that he carried on his shoulder during the games. Inheriting a Georgetown team which had been 3–23 the year before, Thompson quickly and dramatically improved the team, making the NCAA tournament within three seasons. Over the following 27 years, Thompson’s Hoyas went 596–239 (.714), running off a streak of 24 postseason appearances – 20 in the NCAA tournament and 4 in the NIT – including a 14-year streak of NCAA appearances from 1979–1992 that saw three Final Four appearances in 1982, 1984 and 1985, winning a national championship in 1984 and narrowly missing a repeat the next year by losing to underdog Villanova.

He won seven Coach of the Year awards: Big East (1980, 1987, 1992), United States Basketball Writers Association and The Sporting News (1984), National Association of Basketball Coaches (1985) and United Press International (1987). Thompson coached many notable players, including Patrick Ewing, Sleepy Floyd, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson. Under Thompson, 26 players were chosen in the NBA Draft, eight in the first round including two players selected first overall, Ewing by the New York Knicks in 1985 and Iverson by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996.

Controversy

Thompson’s career as head coach of Georgetown was not without controversy. Perhaps one of the most controversial incidents was the hanging of a sign in the McDonough Gymnasium. In 1975, after another perceived mediocre year, a sign was hung at the top of the rafters reading “Thompson the nigger flop must go.” The university quickly took down the sign and silenced calls for his termination.

Confronting drug lord

In the late 1980s, Thompson got word that several of his players, including Alonzo Mourning, were associating with noted Washington, D.C. drug lord (and avid Hoya fan) Rayful Edmond III,  whose crew was connected to at least forty homicides. At the height of his empire, Edmond became very friendly with several Hoyas players. When Thompson confirmed what was happening, he sent word through his sources to have Edmond meet him at his office at McDonough Gymnasium.

When Edmond arrived, Thompson was initially cordial, and informed Edmond that he needed to cease all contacts with his players post haste,  specifically John Turner and Mourning, both of whom had befriended Edmond. When Edmond tried to assure him that his players were not involved in anything illegal, the 6’10” Thompson stood up and pointed his index finger between Edmond’s eyes. Thompson, known for his volatility, quickly boiled over, and unleashed a profanity-laced tirade in which he told Edmond that he did not care about his crew’s violent reputation or propensity to commit murder. Edmond had crossed a line with Thompson’s players, and Thompson was not going to allow Edmond to destroy the players’ lives.

By all accounts, Edmond never associated with another Hoyas player on a personal level. It was believed that Thompson was the only person to stand up to Edmond without consequence,  initially causing some shock and surprise that there was no reprisal.

1988 Olympic Team 

Thompson, who had served as an assistant coach for the gold medal winning team in the 1976 Summer Olympics, coached the last collegiate US team at the 1988 Summer Olympics. Although favored to win the international tournament, the United States was narrowly defeated by the all-professional and experienced Soviet Union in the semifinals 82–76, marking the first time the United States did not reach the gold medal game. The team proceeded to win its final game against Australia to secure the bronze medal.

Protest against Proposition 48

On February 15, 1989, before the start of Georgetown’s home game against Boston College, Thompson walked off the Capital Centre floor and turned coaching duties over to assistant Mike Riley. Thompson was protesting the NCAA’s Proposition 48, which would prohibit scholarship athletes from playing their freshman years if they failed to qualify academically.

Resignation

On January 8, 1999, Thompson announced his resignation as Georgetown’s head coach, citing marriage problems. He was replaced by longtime assistant Craig Esherick, a popular player’s coach.Thompson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on October 1, 1999.

Esherick was fired in 2004 and replaced by John Thompson III, the old coach’s eldest son. At the time the elder Thompson was serving Georgetown in what Rev. Leo J. O’Donovan, university president, referred to as a “coach emeritus” position, assisting on academic, athletic and community projects.  John Thompson III coached Georgetown until 2017.

John Thompson Jr.,′s younger son, Ronny Thompson, formerly an assistant coach at Georgetown, was the head coach at Ball State from 2006 to 2007.

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