John Thompson III Leads Kinder, Gentler Georgetown To Final Four

Son gets it done with Hoyas


March 26, 2007

WASHINGTON (AP) - With the game ball from the previous night tucked preciously under his arm, John Thompson III stepped off the bus Monday to cheers, chants and a hug from the mayor in front of the old gym on Georgetown's campus.

"I hope no one's missing class to be here," Thompson III said, half-jokingly, as the crowd of 150 or so surrounded him and his players in the parking lot.

Moments later, Thompson's father walked briskly through the crowd with considerably less fanfare, using his well-worn collection of four-letter words to shoo away anyone with a camera or a notepad.

"Talk to the kids. It's their day," said the Hall of Fame coach popularly known as Big John. "I'm sick of this father-son (stuff)."

And, with that, the man who created Hoya Paranoia was gone. Georgetown's new generation - the kindler, gentler version of the Hoyas - was left to carry on with the ad hoc celebration.

Georgetown is back in the Final Four after a 22-year absence, headed this weekend for Atlanta after taking the East Regional on Sunday with an overtime win over North Carolina. The Thompsons will become the first father-son duo to coach teams on college basketball's biggest stage. Their similarities and differences have been analyzed and overanalyzed, but another contrast has become evident in recent weeks: JT III, as he is known, has a team even the average fan can like.

Big John's Hoyas were polarizing, the New York Yankees of their day. Fans either loved them or hated them. They played physical - some say they played dirty - and the menacing scowls of Patrick Ewing, baldheaded bruiser Michael Graham and the coach himself only reinforced the reputation.

The coach was both secretive and outspoken, strictly limiting access to his players while at the same time defending them with actions such as his two-game boycott over an NCAA rule he felt would hurt minority athletes. The coach also faced racial resentment for having what was perceived to be a black team at a white school, and his NCAA title in 1984 was the first won by a black coach.


 

 

By contrast, his son comes across as modest and humble. He looks somewhat uncomfortable when there's a fuss made about him. He runs a system, the Princeton offense, that reflects pure basketball and teamwork. His star players, Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert, are self-effacing players who like to smile about their backdoor passes rather than brag about their dunks.

In addition, the Hoyas are an underdog, at least somewhat. At 30-6, they'll have more losses than the other three teams at the Final Four. They fell completely out of The Associated Press Top 25 rankings after three nonconference losses early in the season. They've had a knack for rallying in the second half during the NCAA tournament, including a comeback from 11 down on Sunday against the Tar Heels.

"You can embrace this team because of the style they play," said Rich Chvotkin, who has watched the fans' reactions to Georgetown over 33 years as the team's play-by-play announcer. "It's not just pound it into the bigs and intimidation. John the big fellow's style was that way. He was, basically, the intimidator. John (the son) is a different model. He's more accessible. He's more open. You don't see them in the same light."

In the parking lot Monday, the atmosphere was almost warm and fuzzy. Patrick Ewing Jr. carried the East Regional trophy with the net dangling from it. Roy Hibbert said he slept on the bus because he'd been up all night watching highlights from the game and anything else on television. A freshman who had slept on the floor of the lobby to be near the front of the line to buy Final Four tickets spoke of his "miserable, miserable night" that was worth it nonetheless. Mayor Adrian Fenty called the team a "real inspiration" and said he'd try to make it to Atlanta.

Thompson III, meanwhile, tried the proclaim the Hoyas as "back to business" as they began to prepare for Saturday's game against Ohio State. But the hoopla surrounding him might prove the ultimate test as to whether he can keep his team focused.

"It looks like it may be," said Thompson III, nodding toward the students. "But at the same time I want to make sure our players understand we put ourselves in a position to be one of four teams left, now we have to put ourselves in a position to win. Will it be difficult? Yes."