Why John Thompson III Remains Ideal Coach for Georgetown Hoyas

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2013

John Thompson III is catching heat for his recent postseason struggles, but there's still no better fit for Georgetown than him.
John Thompson III is catching heat for his recent postseason struggles, but there's still no better fit for Georgetown than him.Nate Shron/Getty Images

The Georgetown Hoyas' recent NCAA tournament failures sound like a broken record.

That doesn't mean coach John Thompson III isn't the right man for the Georgetown job, though.

With JTIII, the positives still outweigh the negatives, despite the postseason struggles.

As difficult as it is to look past NCAA tournament success as a barometer of a coach's ability, far more should be considered when evaluating whether a coach is the right man for the job.

Don't just take it from me, though.

Mark Titus, a former walk-on for the Ohio State basketball team and current writer for Grantland, believes "saying teams or conferences are overrated or underrated based on individual NCAA tournament games is stupid," according to his notes from the second weekend of the 2013 tournament.

"Any team in the tournament can beat any other team on any given night," Titus said (Georgetown fans know that better than anyone in recent years).

He's not the only one to reach that conclusion. In his 2013 Final Four look-ahead, CBSsports.com writer Gary Parrish said that "drawing broad conclusions from [the NCAA tournament] is always a silly exercise."

As someone who attended nearly every home Georgetown basketball game for four years, I completely sympathize with fans who find themselves frustrated with the team's recent postseason struggles.

Becoming only the seventh team in NCAA history to lose as a No. 2 seed to a No. 15 seed in the round of 64 (thank you, Florida Gulf Coast) won't soon be forgotten. It's virtually the most embarrassing fate a program can suffer in the tournament, barring a No. 16 seed finally toppling a No. 1 seed.

To make matters worse, after the loss to FGCU, Georgetown became the first program in NCAA tournament history to be knocked out of the tournament four straight times by teams seeded at least five spots lower, according to Peter Keating of ESPN.com.  

There's no sugarcoating that statistic. It's underachievement, plain and simple.

Before calling for Thompson III's head, though, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First and foremost, Georgetown prides itself on tradition, both as a university and with its basketball team (see: traditions.georgetown.edu).

There's no easier way for the basketball team to use tradition as a selling point than employing the offspring of the most legendary basketball coach in university history, John Thompson Jr.

Think it's a coincidence that you can still find Thompson Jr.'s former players, from Patrick Ewing to Alonzo Mourning to Dikembe Mutombo, on the sidelines of high-profile Hoyas games?

Would that be happening as frequently without the Thompsons?

It's anyone's guess, but it seems doubtful.

Think that tradition doesn't matter to current players who weren't even alive during Big Pat's days at Georgetown? Jabril Trawick, Georgetown's starting 2-guard, tweeted otherwise during the Big East Tournament, when he posted a picture of he and Mutombo giving the infamous finger wag.

Being able to meet guys like Mutombo, one of the greatest shot-blockers in NBA history, should be an enticement to all prospective Georgetown players.

Isaac Copeland, a 2014 recruit who committed to Georgetown back in early March, admitted as much to ESPN.com's Reggie Rankin (subscription required):

"I picked Georgetown because of the great academics, great coaching and great tradition," Copeland said. "I didn't know how much tradition they had until I got to the Syracuse game [on March 9]."

Thompson III helped develop that sense of tradition in the players he's coached at Georgetown, as anyone who follows former and current Hoyas on Twitter already knows.

Want proof? Check out this tweet from former Hoya and current Indiana Pacer Roy Hibbert, sent a few days after the upset loss to Florida Gulf Coast.

Seeing the phrase "we take care of our own" from a 2012 NBA All-Star should carry weight with prospects. There's a reason Georgetown's nickname is Big Man U, after all.

Tradition isn't JTIII's only selling point, though. Far from it.

In Thompson III's eight years since taking over as the head coach of Georgetown, he's sent seven players to the NBA (Jeff Green, Hibbert, Patrick Ewing Jr., DaJuan Summers, Greg Monroe, Chris Wright and Henry Sims). Assuming Otto Porter declares for the NBA draft this summer (a virtual lock at this point), he'll soon be the eighth Hoya to join the league in the past eight years.

To a man, the former Hoyas in the league credit their time at Georgetown as having helped them develop the fundamentals needed for the NBA. Thompson III often catches flak for his "PrinceTown offense" being too slow and prodding, but it teaches players to make hard cuts and stay active offensively, even when they're not the primary ball-handler.

Those skills end up proving invaluable at the next level, as no player on a winning NBA team gets to spend his time loafing around on offense.

Thompson III developed that coaching style from his father, as evidenced by a 1980 Sports Illustrated article about Thompson Jr. Even before winning Georgetown's one and only national championship in 1984, Thompson Jr.  "stress[ed] fundamentals (take good shots, fill the lines, look for the open man, don't stand around), intensity in practice, ... tight defense."

Sound familiar?

Thompson III, like his father, follows Georgetown's motto of "cura personalis," which means "care for the entire person." He develops his players into not only NBA prospects, but also into men.

Taken from that same 1980 SI article, Thompson Jr. explains the philosophy that's trickled down to today's Hoyas:

"I don't go in for individual heroes. Everything is directed toward creating a team and winning as a team. A kid who'll work at being a student is going to adjust to this system better than the other kind will. He'll have some habits I need. He's more likely to listen and understand. He's had some experience at doing things he doesn't much like doing. He'll have a sense of what delayed gratification means. I can coach a kid who has decided it is possible to learn things."

In today's me-first AAU culture, finding student-athletes who fit that mold has only become more difficult.

That's what sets Georgetown apart, and what helps attract players like Porter and Monroe.

For those who still remain in the "Fire JTIII" camp, I'd also ask: Who's out there that's better?

If a high-profile school like UCLA can only muster a guy like Steve Alford, do you really think Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens will leave their cushy jobs at VCU and Butler for Georgetown?

As ESPN.com's Andy Katz wrote at the end of March, "leaving a comfortable situation, an athletic director or president that [coaches] get along with, and facilities can be difficult to match."

Until Georgetown completes work on its new practice facility, the Hoyas coaching job may not be as appealing as Georgetown fans might otherwise believe.

God forbid that Georgetown had a coach like Rutgers' Mike Rice, who's on film cursing out his players and throwing basketballs at them (how do we know JTIII isn't like that? This tweet from former Hoya Patrick Ewing Jr. would suggest otherwise).

Again, there's no sugarcoating the NCAA tournament struggles. Thompson III knows this better than anyone.

After the Hoyas' loss to FGCU, Thompson III sounded nothing short of despondent, saying, "I've tried to analyze it, think about it, look at it, think about what we should do differently and I don't know."

Luckily for Georgetown fans, JTIII has nearly a full year to figure it out.

Remember, Georgetown was projected to finish fifth in the Big East conference this season. That's before the Hoyas lost their second-leading scorer in Greg Whittington in January due to academics.

Who could have expected a Big East regular-season championship after starting 0-2 in conference play and losing Whittington for the season? Not even the most delusional of Hoyas fans, that's who.

For a man with three Big East regular season championships, one Big East tournament championship, two other Big East tournament finals appearances and a Final Four under his belt in eight years as the coach of Georgetown, Thompson III continues to deserve the benefit of the doubt.

There's no better coach for Georgetown than JTIII.  

And when he does get the NCAA tournament monkey off his back?

Watch out, world. Hoya Paranoia will be back again.


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