Monday, November 06, 2006
Dick Weiss (NY Daily News) - It's the Return of the Hoyas
|It's the return of the Hoyas |
| Thompson III following in dad's footsteps|
That is where Hall of Famer John Thompson set up his laboratory, transforming a once stagnant program in that tony section of D.C. into the Beast of the Big East and producing a litany of great big men beginning with Craig Shelton and progressing through Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Othella Harrington, who helped Thompson erect his own Washington monument.
They were the faces of the Thompson-coached powerhouses that won a national championship in 1984, reached two more Final Fours, won 596 games, seven Big East regular-season titles, six tournament championships and received 20 NCAA bids from 1972 through 1999.
If Ewing was the most dominant force ever in the Big East, the towering seven-foot Thompson was its most dominant, imposing personality.
Now, John Thompson III has inherited the task of rekindling the flame his father ignited, turning the Hoyas into a national contender for the first time since 1996.
He may be closer than anyone thinks.
The younger Thompson, a Princeton graduate who was heavily influenced in his coaching philosophy by his college coach Pete Carril and by his father, returned to Georgetown in 2004 after spending four years as head coach at his alma mater.
It was a homecoming for a man who had an inside view to the Hoyas' rise to power. "I was 6 when (my father) got the job," he says. "My favorite player was (guard) John Duren. I loved him because he really knew how to control a game."
Thompson remembers the first time one of his father's teams reached the championship game in 1982. The Hoyas lost to North Carolina, 66-62, when a slender freshman named Michael Jordan nailed a baseline jumper with 15 seconds remaining and Freddie Brown made a bad pass on the next posession that was intercepted by James Worthy.
"I remember thinking after that loss how hard it is to get to that point," Thompson III says. "The work, the effort, the luck, the right bounces. I remember wondering if we'd ever get back.
"The follow-up to that occured two years later after we beat Houston to win it all in Seattle. My father's reaction: 'Let's do it again.' It's special, something I haven't experienced."
The son is establishing a legacy of his own.
Just two years after his arrival, Thompson, 40, coached the Hoyas to 23 victories, a program-defining 87-84 win over then top-ranked Duke and a spot in the Sweet 16, pushing eventual NCAA champion Florida to the limit before falling, 57-53, after Corey Brewer made a miracle three-point play with 27 seconds left.
Thompson has established Georgetown as a smart, unselfish team that produced assists on 65% of its baskets last year while playing a pumped-up version of the Princeton offense that has squeezed the most out of his players.
He has also rebuilt the fan base. The lower bowl of the Verizon Center is virtually sold out and thousands of fans are wearing those two-year-old blue and gray T-shirts that say, "Some Have Forgotten. We Will Remind Them," with the numeral III below.
More importantly, Thompson has laid the foundation for the future. Thompson and assistants Robert Burke and Kevin Broadus have worked hard to reestablish a connection with the best players in the Baltimore/D.C./Northern Virginia area. "Most of the kids we're recruiting now weren't born when (Ewing) was playing," Thompson says. "I think a lot of their parents had an understanding of the history of the program. We're hoping we get to a point where they want to come because of what we're doing."
The Hoyas must be doing something right. They have received verbal commitments from the two best seniors in the area - potential McDonald's All-American guards Austin Freeman of DeMatha Catholic and Chris Wright of St. John's. They have also gotten committments from the two top junior prospects - forward Chris Braswell of DeMatha and guard Jason Clark of Bishop O'Connell in Arlington, Va.
It wasn't always that way.
Thompson had to scramble after deciding to take the job in the spring of 2004. He was lucky that 7-2 center Roy Hibbert and 6-9 forward Jeff Green were willing to take a risk and stick with their commitments to a program whose tradition had eroded to a point where it won just 13 games in 2004.
Hibbert grew up with Georgetown basketball. "I used to go to McDonough when I was in seventh, eighth grade to watch their preseason exhibitions," he says. That was back when they had (seven-foot center) Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje."
When Hibbert was 13, he used to take the bus to Georgetown to work out against Hoyas players. "I wanted to be part of that big-man history," he says. He was often matched up against powerful Mike Sweetney, a future lottery pick, who would routinely push him around. But that did not deter Hibbert, who played four years on the varsity for former Georgetown guard Dwayne Bryant at Georgetown Prep and committed to the Hoyas as a junior.
Green, who played for Hyattsville, Md.'s Northwestern High, the same school that produced the late Len Bias, committed to Georgetown during the fall of his senior year. Green, who missed most of the summer events, did not have a national profile to speak of but came on strong, leading his team to the Maryland 4A state championship and making first team All Met.
Green and Hibbert lived five minutes apart but never met until the summer before their senior year when they played in an all-star game at the fabled Jabbo Kenner League in D.C. "I was sitting next to him and he was asking was I looking to go to Georgetown," Green said. "I didn't know he had already committed. He talked me into going."
Green made an immediate impact as a freshman. He averaged 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds, and was selected Big East Co-Rookie of the Year for a 19-win NIT team. Hibbert was more of a project. "Jeff was doing everything possible, playing guard, forward," Hibbert says. "I started working hard after my freshman year because I wanted to give Jeff some help."
Green had his biggest moment last season when the Hoyas stunned Duke, posting 18 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals. Hibbert, who has shed 20 pounds to get down to 278, turned into a major force by the start of the NCAA tournament, scoring 20 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and blocking three shots as the Hoyas handled Big Ten power Ohio State in a second-round game in Dayton.
If Thompson's Hoyas can find a dependable perimeter threat to complement their high-low combination, who knows how high the Hoyas can soar? Maybe as high as some of his father's teams. "You can never forget about the past at Georgetown," Green says.
It is hard to miss when the elder Thompson and former legends such as Ewing - whose 6-8 son Pat Jr., transferred from Indiana and wears his dad's old 33 - Mourning, Mutombo and Allen Iverson come back to McDonough to remind the current players of their heritage.