John Thompson Q + A
Catching up with the Georgetown legend.
by Cub Buenning
For 27 years, the father of the current Georgetown Hoyas head coach patrolled the same sidelines in the nation’s capital. John Thompson Jr. won just under 600 games during his Hall-of Fame coaching career. His instructional duties followed an All-American playing career at Providence College and a cup of coffee with the Boston Celtics. The DC-native led the Hoyas to 24 postseason appearances in a row, including a 14-year streak of NCAA Tournament appearances.
The Coach was largely known for developing big men of the ilk of Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Othello Harrington. His Ewing-led teams of the early 80’s enjoyed a great run, earning trips to the Final Four in 1982, ’84 and ’85. After winning the ’84 National Title, Thompson and the Hoyas were the overwhelming favorite in the following year’s national title game, which they lost to Rollie Massamino and the Villanova Wildcats.
On the eve of the Sweet 16, Coach Thompson was not only preparing for the upcoming games but was directly involved with Powerade and their game science hoops clinics for youths in the DC area as well. SLAM was fortunate enough to grab the coaching legend for a few minutes.
SLAM: Last week, was of course, a crazy start to the NCAA Tournament. Between Marquette, Butler, VCU, Morehead State, there were several interesting story lines. But, what stood out to you as the biggest surprise of the first weekend?
John Thompson: I think the biggest thing that stood out, is that the “experts” aren’t experts. We evaluate teams that are mid-major and we talk about “Cinderella,” but because of what has happened in the NBA, with a lot of cream being taken off the top, everybody is competitive. I don’t think that it makes for a worse showing; I think it makes for a better showing. When you look at teams like VCU and Richmond, we act surprised, but when you look at the talent-level, theirs is equal to the talent-level of some of the major schools.
SLAM: Obviously, the Big East came in with 11 teams and many felt that Notre Dame should have been a #1 seed, but was the Big East overrated or misrepresented? Are there not many elite teams in the conference, rather a lot of really good teams?
JT: To think that the Big East is overrated is just idiotic. The Big East was rated based on the consistency of their performance against competitive teams, not based on a “one game, you lose, you’re out” situation. We lose sight of the fact, as well, that four of those teams played against each other. But on any given day, if you’re not in the rhythm that you want to be in it, you can lose. I think Ohio State is the best team in the tournament. Not only are they the best team, I think that Ohio State is playing best. Some of the teams that are better than other teams just aren’t playing as well at this moment.
SLAM: Yes, and Marquette might have been fortunate to meet up with a Syracuse in the second round, because they were already familiar. That might not have been the situation if they were in different leagues.
JT: Well, I’ll take you back further than that. Villanova was familiar with Georgetown in 1985.
(Both of us share a chuckle, as the coach takes an obvious shot at his own team’s championship game defeat at the hands of the Wildcats.)
SLAM: Looking forward to the second weekend, what do you think about the Kansas/Richmond/VCU/Florida State bracket?
JT: That Kansas/Richmond game is a perfect example of just what I was talking about. In terms of perception, one would think that Kansas would be able to just flat-out overpower Richmond, and that may happen. But, if Richmond is able to get the game at its own tempo, they can create a problem in a one-game situation. Now, if they were to play in the same league, that’s where Kansas’s advantage would be and that was my point about the Big East. But, I just think that it is a tough game for Kansas. They should win, but I would not be super-shocked if Richmond won the game, because Richmond is a good ball club.
SLAM: What about a team like North Carolina? A lot was expected before the season, Harrison Barnes, way too much was heaped on him, but he’s coming into form and looking great. How do you foresee them playing, not only against Marquette but also how they might match up with Ohio State?
JT: I think that they have gotten better; that’s always a good sign. I think they went through a certain period where the level of expectation was disproportionate to how Roy (Williams) had brought the team that far. But now, he has brought them to a point that I am sure, he is more satisfied. He has done a great job, because sometimes it’s not easy coaching talent. They are a talented team, but they are getting better, so Carolina can be dangerous, purely because of their depth and length.
SLAM: Let’s move onto a few NBA thoughts. What are your feelings about the current “Big 3” movement with teams trying to load up on top-flight talent?
JT: It’s interesting; I don’t know how it will conclude. Obviously, this is not the first time that people have accumulated outstanding players. I’m amazed at the fact that people are excited about it, because I don’t know any team that’s ever won an NBA Championship that didn’t have more than a Big 3. “The Big 3” better get the “Big 3 More” if they want to win a championship. I’m not apposed at all to people trying to accumulate talent, but the problem is that those that we have crowned as being superstars, that are all getting on one team and obviously it’s going to have an affect on the smaller markets.
SLAM: I hear you are picking back up the whistle tonight for the Powerade Game Science Clinic. What can you tell about that event?
JT: First of all, I am working for these people (Powerade), and in working with them, the thing that I am pleased with is that this event is extremely important. The clinic will be teaching young kids, especially at-risk kids, the importance of participating in athletics and how that can affect those that might be dropping out of school.