Archives for posts with tag: John Thompson

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In 1981, Patrick Ewing was the perfect fit for Georgetown.  The highly-recruited center tuned the Hoyas from one of the better Big East schools into a powerhouse:  three Final Fours, a national championship and near-misses in two of the more memorable title tilts.  Thirty-two years after last wearing the signature gray t-shirt underneath his jersey, Ewing tries to bring his school back from what has been a rough couple of years.  Consecutive 18-loss campaigns.  Early exits at the Big East tournament.  Defeats to lowly DePaul.  Roughly 5,000 fans on hand at Verizon Center for the St. John’s game.  There’s work to be done.

Say goodbye to the “Princeton Offense”, run by John Thompson III.   Ewing said, “it’s going to be a blend of the NBA style and also the style that we played here at Georgetown in terms of pressing and being up the floor-all that stuff in my years here.”  Music to the ears of the fans who watched the Hoyas finish last in the Big East in steals and turnover margin in 2016-17.  He’ll have a revamped roster to work with as only two of his top six scorers are back from last winter.  Ewing does have a big man at his disposal:  6-foot-10 forward Jessie Govan.  “Jessie is one of the keys to our success,” Ewing said, “If he does not have step up and have a great year for us we won’t be successful.  I’ve put a lot on his plate.”  To say the least.  The junior forward averaged 10 points per game last winter and was tied for the team lead in rebounding…does he feel any pressure in practice dealing with the best big man in school history?  “I mean–not pressure.  I just gotta listen to everything he says,” Govan said, “because everything he says is with a purpose.  I’m just listening to everything he says and then going out there to do my thing.”  Govan’s thing is pretty good when he hits his stride: he scored 23 points and 8 rebounds against NCAA-bound Marquette last February.  But he posted just a pair of double-doubles last winter- neither occurring in Big East play.

Govan will have help.  Fellow junior Marcus Derrickson expects to build off a sophomore year that began with a bang: the Bowie, Maryland native averaged 15 points over first five Big East games last winter.  Unfortunately he posted just a pair of double-digit efforts the rest of the way.  “I know going into this season and coming out of last year I have a lot to work on,” the 6-foot-7 forward said, “I had to get in better shape and just improve my overall game.  Coming into college and not winning for two years really motivated me to push myself so I can win this year.”  Former Ole Miss recruit JaMarko Pickett will also be in the mix…and while they won’t make anybody forget the days of Ewing and Michael Graham, they should be able to hold their own inside this winter.

Potential producers on the perimeter are guards Jagan Moseley (second in assists as a freshman) and former Juco Transfer Jonathan Mulmore.  There’s help at the point in the form of graduate transfer Trey Dickerson (South Dakota) and freshman Jahvon Blair.  Greg Malinowski is a graduate transfer from William & Mary where he shot 40% from three-point range last season.

The schedule has few speedbumps–a November 25th trip to Richmond an a December 16th game against Syracuse (even with all of their issues the last two winters, John Thompson III’s team was able to beat the Orange).  Big East play begins with Butler December 27th.  The Hoyas also play DePaul, Marquette and Creighton before finally facing a conference foe that was in the league when Ewing was a player–at St. John’s on January 9th.  I think there might be more than 5,158 at Capital One Arena when the Red Storm drop by the District January 20th.

Ewing returns to campus after being an assistant coach in the NBA for the last 15 years.  He’s never been a head coach anywhere and has never coached in the college game–until now. “We’ll just take it day by day, step by step, laying the foundation and we’ll see what happens in the future.”  For those who grew up on Hoya Paranoia in the 1980’s, #33 remains one final attempt to return to the program’s “Camelot”- after the hires of Craig Esherick and John Thompson III each saw early success before eventually meeting failure. “You know, everyone was wearing the Georgetown starter jacket.  From the east coast to the west coast.  People in the movies were wearing it.  I think all that showed how dominant we were,” Ewing said.  The long road back begins November 12th against Jacksonville.

Penthouse Prediction:  Ewing gets through to Govan who becomes a beast.  A soft non-conference schedule allows this team to find its feet before the conference wars.  They take their lumps, especially in Big East play, but shock the world with a win or two and make the NIT.  Of course they beat Syracuse.  And of course Jim Boeheim whines during his press conference.

Worst Case Scenario:  the career NBA assistant takes a little longer than expected to get in gear with the college game.  Govan turns out more like Brandon Hayes than Greg Monroe.  The perimeter players cobbled together aren’t able to gel.  A 20-loss season is punctuated by obnoxious orange-clad fans telling the Capital One Arena crowd what time it is on December 16th.

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Past met present at Georgetown…with an eye towards the future.  The school introduced Hoyas great Patrick Ewing as its head men’s basketball coach in front of a room packed with media, boosters, fans, students, alumni and a pep band that did not know “Vehicle” by the Ides of March.  But the name “Patrick Ewing” was music enough to everyone’s ears at the John Thompson Jr. Athletic Center.  Ewing even replicated his famous scene from when he committed to play at the Big East school in 1981, holding a Georgetown pennant above his head.  Ewing has less hair now and has put on a little weight, but the three-time All-American can still pose for a picture.

“I’m very honored and pleased to be named head coach at Georgetown basketball,” Ewing opened, “we’ve had a rich tradition led by the man in the back–Coach Thompson. His vision, his hard work, his dedication has helped to lift the program to where it has gotten. It’s my job to add on to that legacy.”

On the right-hand side after the first few rows of chairs and conveniently near a door for his quiet exit sat the man who brought Ewing to DC from Boston.  John Thompson, Jr. retired 18 years ago and saw his #1 assistant (Craig Esherick) make a Sweet Sixteen appearance before getting fired after a sub-500 season.  He then witnessed his first-born son (John Thompson III) lead the program to the Final Four before getting fired after consecutive losing campaigns.  Now Big John sees his best player take over the program and brand he and Ewing took to an elite level over 30 years ago.

“If it was any other university I wouldn’t be doing this,” the longtime NBA assistant coach said, “but it’s my alma mater. It’s Georgetown. I’m a Hoya. I just thought it was a great opportunity to come back and rebuild the program.”

The job is open for a reason.  John Thompson III’s tenure ended with three losing seasons in its last four years, punctuated by a ninth-place Big East finish this March with a loss at home to cellar dwelling DePaul.  A highly-touted freshman class of three years ago resulted in players underachieving, transferring, or both.  The Hoyas lose their top two scorers from this past season (Rodney Pryor and L.J. Peak).  That means the Hall of Famer will have to rebuild on the fly for next winter.

“We’re going look at JuCo (players) if they can get in, we’re going to look at fifth year seniors. European…anything. Anybody that we think has the ability to be successful here.” Ewing said, then cautioned: “But I’m not going to just jump into it and bring in people in here that in two years I’m saying ‘now why the hell did I bring him in here?’. I want to take my time and make sure we bring in the right people.” It’s early April…and time is not a luxury Ewing and his yet to be comprised staff has for the 2017-18 campaign.

Ewing’s first task is putting together that coaching staff.  He’ll need assistants who can guide him along the recruiting road, as all of his experience on the bench has come in the NBA.  But the Jamaican-born and Boston-educated Ewing knows where the Hoyas bread will be buttered if they’re to become successful.

“The D.C., Baltimore and Virginia area is a hotbed of great talent.” Ewing said, “That’s my job to try to get us back to that level that these great players try to stay home.”  On this past season’s 14-player roster, just five were from the region.  Great players like Josh Hart (Villanova) as well as those who made immediate impact like Anthony Cowan (Maryland) went elsewhere…as the Hoyas’ local talent base slowly eroded over the last five years.

The major question mark facing Ewing is what is more of a challenge for a career NBA assistant (15 years):  becoming a first-time college coach or a first-time head coach?  There will be adjustments on both fronts;  and just as not all valued assistants become successful head coaches, pro success does not directly translate into winning at the college level.  Fellow 80’s Big East icon Chris Mullin is 22-43 after two seasons with St. John’s, but the Red Storm won six more conference games this past winter and Mullin doesn’t have nearly the coaching experience Ewing possesses.  Fellow Dream Teamer Clyde Drexler went straight from playing to coaching at his Alma Mater Houston…and two years later he left with a 19-39 mark.  Eddie Jordan after a career as an NBA assistant and head coach returned to Rutgers and posted a 29-68 record over four seasons with his former school.  Despite the Hoyas recent dip, the program is in much better shape than the other three situations.

When the Redskins had to deal with a third coaching change in four years (I’m not including interim coach Terry Robiskie for accounting purposes) they looked lost in the wilderness…before bringing back Hall of Fame Coach Joe Gibbs.  Despite limited success, Gibbs represented a magic bullet for the Burgundy and Gold faithful.  For anyone dissatisfied with how the John Thompson III era finished or how he was treated in the final days, Patrick Ewing is a seven-foot tall magic bullet with a vision and work ethic to bring the Hoyas back to relevance.  Heaven forbid if this move doesn’t work out.

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John Thompson III’s firing on paper almost makes sense.  Consecutive losing seasons for a school that once ruled the Big East.  A ninth-place finish this year in a conference that only has ten schools (and a home loss to lowly DePaul to boot).  A 69-62 mark over the last four years…with first weekend losses in the NCAA Tournament (Florida Gulf Coast, Ohio) the rule and not the exception since their Final Four run ten years ago.  You could even make the case that JT3’s Final Four team was built with his predecessor Craig Esherick recruits (Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert).  Forget about those who were shouting “Fire Thompson!” at Verizon Center…think about the 5,158 who actually showed up to watch the Hoyas host St. John’s.  But we don’t exist in a vacuum…and Georgetown’s heart and soul will have to find itself over the next few months as the parting with the son of Big John will need a while to take hold.

Think about where the program was when John Thompson, Jr. took over in 1972.  A private, catholic university that was near the White House but far from relevant.  A paltry postseason history that included one NCAA Tournament berth plus a pair of trips to the NIT.  Fresh off a 3-23 season.  Enter a 31-year old high school coach with a couple of NBA Championship rings.  Sounds like a bad sitcom on the CW, right?  But Big John turned around a program that was fighting for fourth place inside the beltway behind Maryland, George Washington and American (remember, this was during the Kermit Washington era) into a national power.  The 1980’s Georgetown teams ran through a newly created Big East conference and more often than not were cutting down the nets at Madison Square Garden each March.  Unforgettable stars ranging from slippery guards like Sleepy Floyd and Allen Iverson to giants ranging from Patrick Ewing to Alonzo Mourning.  Fantastic supporting players from Victor Page to Jaren Jackson.  Under Big John, Georgetown became a Big Deal locally and nationally.

Thompson was more than just successful on the court- the first African American coach to win a national title was also a vocal supporter of student-athletes, once walking off the court before a 1989 game to protest the NCAA’s Proposition 42 that took scholarships away from academic non-qualifiers.  Thompson also went toe-to-toe with a D.C. area drug dealer to stay away from his players.  Big John provided a lifeline for many underprivileged young men…all while winning six Big East Tournament titles and a National Championship.  He’s still around the program to this day…sitting on the baseline near the home bench at Verizon Center.  And even seated, John Thompson, Jr. will always cast a shadow.

The transfer from the elder Thompson to longtime assistant (and former player) Craig Esherick in the late 1990’s was less than smooth.  One trip to the NCAA’s in his five full seasons…and no Big East finals appearances.  When John Thompson III came over from Princeton (with two NCAA appearances and an NIT berth) to succeed the fired Esherick in 2004, it felt natural to move from one heir apparent to the namesake.  And for a while it was amazing.  DePaul never got to the Final Four under Joey Meyer…and Sean Sutton was quickly disposed of at Oklahoma State.  Pat Knight?  A sub-500 record at Texas Tech.  JT3 won (albeit with Esherick recruits) and did so by staying true to his Princeton offense roots.  People recall the first round flameouts and recent winters of discontent, but I’m going to remember the John Wallace-Jeff Green-Roy Hibbert team that upset Ohio State in the 2006 Sweet Sixteen, advanced to the Final four in 2007 and ran into a hot-shooting Steph Curry and Davidson the following March.  Little did we know that would be the peak of the JT3’s thirteen-year tenure.

I always dreaded “Parent Observation Day” in elementary and middle school.  Tough to be “cool-at-school-Dave” when your parents are sitting in the back row.  And that was for two hours once a year.  John Thompson III has enjoyed the wisdom and guidance of his Hall of Fame father, but has also had his dad in the classroom with him for most of the last thirteen years.  Big John is not shy when sitting in the back row at press conferences, from calling out referees for sloppy efficiency or kissing former conference rival Syracuse goodbye after a 61-39 thumping at Verizon Center.  He’s also protective of his son, having sent someone to pipe down students chanting “Fire Thompson!” at a recent game. One can imagine despite however beneficial-how uncomfortable it was for JT3 trying to become a successful coach in his own right under a legend he couldn’t hope to match let alone eclipse.

Off the air with WTOP’s digital sports editor Noah Frank this week I mentioned how “it’s always easier to perform the autopsy than the diagnosis”.  There will be post-mortems on Thompson-the-Younger’s success and failures.  And reasons why recruiting wasn’t as successful the last few years.  There will be discussions about how the Hoyas play in a half-full NBA arena instead of a Cameron 2.0.  There will be short lists of who’s next, from Rhode Island’s Danny Hurley (not to be confused with brother Bobby) to current Charlotte associate coach Patrick Ewing (if you’ve read this far, you might have heard of him).  There will be a search led by Athletic Director Lee Reed and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.  But until one hears what John Thompson, Jr. has to say, the final word has yet to be spoken.

 

Regional Roundup- Thursday gave us three nailbiters and a blowout…not bad for the second weekend when your viewing options are fewer than the first two rounds.  And even the Kansas-Purdue game was competitive for 24 minutes…at least until the Jayhawks turned a 53-51 game upside-down by going on a 45-15 closing run.  They’ll meet an Oregon team that held Michigan scoreless for the final 2:04 as the Wolverines’ season ends with just three shots (all misses) in the last two minutes of their season.  Finishing droughts wasn’t the exception, as West Virginia didn’t score for the final 1:48 and miss 5 shots plus 2 free throws in that span in their loss to Gonzaga.  Arizona?  Nothing to show for the final 2:40 as Wildcats coach Sean Miller won’t have the chance to experience heartbreak in the Elite Eight this year.  The Musketeers move on to their first Regional Final since 2008–when Sean Miller was their coach.

Tonight’s Games- in Memphis it’s the bluebloods plus a team that wears blue.  Butler meets North Carolina in the early tipoff (try to tell the Tar Heels they’re the warmup act) while UCLA meets Kentucky (19 NCAA titles combined) in the nightcap.  Madison Square Garden is still recovering from losing both the Big East and ACC Tournament winners last weekend:  minus Villanova and Duke, the South Carolina-Baylor and Wisconsin-Florida matchups have a Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl feel about them.