My three years at Georgetown have been marked by three premature NCAA Tournament exits.
I’ll admit that the heartbreak has been pretty difficult, considering the excitement and paranoia these Georgetown men’s basketball teams provided during the season—a win over Duke in front of a raucous Verizon Center crowd in 2010, a magical run to that year’s Big East Tournament final, and beating the Orange in Syracuse with those fresh black jerseys a year later marking just the greatest of those moments.
But for all of those adrenaline-charged victories, there have been gut-wrenching losses to end those seasons. The thought of little DJ Cooper and Ohio shooting a team with Greg Monroe out of the gym still gives me nightmares. I cringe when I think about Cincinnati breaking Chris Wright’s hand and derailing our season a year later. Even against NC State, it felt so close—a winnable game which would have exorcised those postseason demons once and for all.
In the end, though, all the losses had one thing in common: they all fell squarely on Head Coach John Thompson III’s shoulders.
For the past three seasons, I’ve heard the same thing over and over again: A bad loss for the Hoyas would result in quiet grumbling about Thompson and all of his supposed coaching blunders which cost the team in crunch time. Those grumbles got even more vicious at the season’s end.
“It’s the Princeton offense, it hinders our athleticism,” some quipped. “Why the hell is Benimon even in the game?” others griped (alright, that point was probably valid).
Whatever the complaint, it’s a fair reaction from sports fans. For all the good times, we remember how things ended, and for all but one team, it’s likely on a sour note. Sure, the attentive Hoya fan will point to Otto Porter’s exploits against a number of opponents, perhaps how he tore apart the Syracuse zone in his only matchup with the Orange last season. But the lasting memory from his spectacular freshman campaign will be the missed jumper that would have sent the NC State game into overtime.
In the end, however, that constant knee-jerk reaction is simply not fair to Thompson. The former Princeton coach resurrected his father’s program from the doldrums of the Craig Esherick era. His teams over the past eight seasons have been consistently successful, and he put Georgetown on the map once again with a 2007 run to the Final Four. It’s true that the postseason success has not matched that fairy-tale level since, but that’s the nature of single-elimination tournaments.
If anything, Thompson deserves an extension, and a lengthy one at that. I want to see what other coach could come in and recruit incredible talents like Greg Monroe and Otto Porter to a school with facilities lacking as much as Georgetown’s. That Nerlens Noel had us on his final list of schools is a small miracle.
Typically, Georgetown doesn’t announce contract extensions for their athletic programs. Football Head Coach Kevin Kelly, for instance, was reportedly extended a couple of seasons ago, prior to his team’s meteoric rise from the bottom of the Patriot League. They made an exception in Coach Thompson’s case, announcing a six-year extension in 2007, after his team’s Final Four run.
Such an extension would, of course, indicate that the incumbent coach’s deal is up in 2013. This isn’t to suggest that he’s going anywhere, or that Georgetown will be exploring their options.
From a basketball perspective, Thompson has ably adapted to his personnel on an annual basis, a fact lost on a number of results-oriented Hoya fans. Once he lost Greg Monroe to the NBA, for instance, he opened up the floor for Austin Freeman and Wright the following season. Sure, the Hoyas ran their Princeton sets to perfection, but when the opportunity arose, they sped up their game to take advantage of that team’s athleticism.
The difference with Thompson is that, after Georgetown, his players know how to play smart basketball. Roy Hibbert, Jeff Green, and Monroe haven’t been hindered by the methodical Princeton offense in the NBA; on the contrary, they have been lauded for their basketball IQs and their mature passing ability.
The main argument for keeping Thompson is one of stability. If Georgetown locks his contract up, Thompson won’t be going anywhere. In such an unstable conference, an elite coach can keep a program above water and in the national picture.
To me, JTIII is that man. No one else has such a strong connection to the Hilltop. Name Coach X to replace him and it may or may not produce benefits. But even if it did, these other coaches could easily see past the tradition of Georgetown basketball and use the position as a stepping-stone to a bigger position with better facilities and a lot more money.
This is no stepping-stone for Thompson. The Hilltop is the pinnacle for him– he’s home at Georgetown, where he should be, and the University needs to make sure he doesn’t go anywhere anytime soon.