This is a column from the January 23, 2014 edition of The Georgetown Voice. It can be found here
The last nine months have not been kind to the Georgetown men’s basketball team, especially Head Coach John Thompson III. After clinching the Big East regular season title against longtime rival Syracuse, the Hoyas surged into the postseason with an apparent date with destiny in the Final Four, possibly even the National Championship.
Fast forward to last Monday night. Following their fourth loss in five games, the depleted Hoyas now find themselves fighting for their tournament lives, in probably the most frustrating nine-month span of Thompson’s decade-long tenure on the Hilltop. This stretch included an embarassing loss to Florida Gulf Coast, Otto Porter’s departure to the NBA, and Greg Whittington’s dismissal from the team.
And now, without a viable third scoring option due to the vacancies left by junior center Joshua Smith and junior forward Trawick, the Hoyas have struggled to clinch close games, surrendering late-game leads in their last three games.
Thompson has juggled a myriad of lineups in an effort to find some success. But, as Rick Pitino might say, “Patrick Ewing isn’t walking through that door” for them in the closing stretch of this disheartening season.
Unfortunately for Thompson, the brunt of the blame for these past nine months has fallen on his shoulders. Among the cacophony of fans departing the Verizon Center Monday night after another gut-wrenching loss, murmurs of firing Thompson could easily be heard.
It’s easy for Georgetown fans to grow increasingly agitated by the team’s recent play and our apparent perpetual entrenchment in the first round of the NCAA Tournament over the past few years. But with that in mind, I ask the most diehard of Georgetown fans a simple question: Over the past ten years, which current Big East program would you like to trade places with?
It’s not a trick question. During Thompson’s tenure, the Hoyas have made the tournament seven out of nine seasons, five of which seeded the Hoyas No. 3 or higher. Thompson-coached teams have won three Big East regular season titles, appeared in three Big East Tournament Championship game appearances, and most importantly, one Final Four in 2007. The last ten years have seen some of college basketball’s best don the Blue and Gray uniform including Big East Players of the Year Jeff Green and Otto Porter Jr., as well as NBA stars Roy Hibbert and Greg Monroe. By the way, none of these players, aside from Monroe, was highly touted coming out of high school, a testament to Thompson’s ability as a teacher.
And lastly, in the last seven seasons, excluding this dreadful one we find ourselves in, Georgetown is one of only four schools (Duke, Michigan State, and UNC being the others) to have been nationally ranked in the Associated Press Top 10, a statistic which soldifies Georgetown as the flagship basketball program in the retooled Big East.
But Thompson’s fiercest critics point to his team’s shortcomings in the NCAA Tournament as the justification of their burgeoning demands for a new head coach. So the next logical question for those clamoring for a change in direction is simply,“Who?” Who will you get that will make things that much better? Who will come and coach at a school with a dramatically weakened conference, an obsolete practice facility, and a cavernous and underwhelming Verizon Center, and attract the talent necessary to further the successes the program has had under Thompson’s leadership?
Following his team’s win against Georgetown, Marquette Head Coach Buzz Williams said, “I think God gives you the same test over and over and over again until you pass it. … You can either respond to that at some point in time, or you can give in.”
Ultimately, although maybe not this year, I’m confident that Georgetown will finally pass their NCAA Tournament test as well, and that Thompson should and will be the coach who earns the grade.