Basketball Preview

John Thompson III: Taking stock of the coach’s 10 years on the Hilltop

November 13, 2014

John Thompson III took over the Georgetown men’s basketball team in 2004, inheriting a program that had strayed far from its historic past. The team, while not resigned to irrelevance, was far from a perennial powerhouse.

Thompson’s first season was not spectacular, but the team managed a winning record, something that had not been achieved during the 2003-2004 campaign. In his second year, Thompson led the Hoyas to a berth in the NCAA Tournament, where the Blue and Gray reached the Sweet Sixteen, losing a close game to eventual National Champions Florida.

I will never forget 2007—Thompson’s magnum opus. A Hoya squad led by Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert managed to shrug off a slow start to win the Big East regular season and conference championships. Earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, the Hoyas fought through their quarter of the draw to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1985.

I was in the Verizon Center that year when the Hoyas managed to beat top-10 Pittsburgh. I screamed and ran around my block when Green’s last second shot against Vanderbilt sent the Blue and Gray through to the Elite Eight. I was in Atlanta, in the rafters of the Georgia Dome, in late March when the Hoyas played in their first National Semifinal in more than 20 years. I remember the buzz surrounding Thompson and his team. I remember screaming “Hoya Saxa” at random others wearing blue and gray in the city. But, sometimes, it’s hard to believe that 2007 was real.

The Hoyas have not reached the Sweet Sixteen since that season seven years ago, and their shortcomings have come, arguably, in the most painful way possible. The Hoyas have not been bad. Rather, Thompson’s teams have been very good, even on a national scale, but sporadically so.

With the exception of last season, the Blue and Gray have found a spot in the top 10 of the national rankings each year since 2007. High tournament seeds, too, have not been a rarity. However, the Hoyas have become a punchline in March, often finding the year’s upstart tournament team in the competition’s early rounds. Stephen Curry’s Davidson, VCU before their rise to prominence, and Florida Gulf Coast all reached at least the Sweet Sixteen in the years in which they beat the Hoyas. While there are few excuses for the 14-point first round loss to Ohio University in 2010 or the two NIT appearances, it is clear that the Hoyas have had their fair share of bad luck when it comes to the postseason.

But, the bottom line stays the same. The men’s basketball team on the Hilltop is expected to win when it matters, and they haven’t in a long time. What has stayed the same over these years? Players have come and gone, but Thompson has remained.

Looking at the facts plainly, it’s hard to find the direct causation between Thompson’s coaching and the repeated postseason blunders, but, if you are determined to find something to say beyond “I don’t know why we keep losing,” there’s little to point to besides the one constant among the most influential factors in Hilltop basketball.

I’m here to tell you that this insinuation is, plainly and simply, wrong. There are hordes of Hoya fans calling for Thompson’s head every year, forgetting all the good times that he has given us. Remember Hibbert’s three-pointer to beat UConn? Remember Otto and the Miracles? Remember last year’s win over Michigan State at the Garden? None of these happenings would have taken place without Thompson.

Despite the postseason losses, select recruits have continued to choose Georgetown, and have found the development they needed under Thompson’s guidance. Hibbert, Green, and Greg Monroe have all come into their own during their time in the NBA, while Otto Porter and others are moving toward becoming league mainstays. The Hilltop is no one-and-done factory, rather the players who come to Georgetown come to improve, and often credit Thompson and his staff for making them capable of moving to the next level.

Recruiting is the story of this year’s team, which combines an expansive group of returning players with a group of exceptionally talented freshmen. It could be argued that this team is the best of Thompson’s tenure. If 2007 seems like a long time ago to Georgetown partisans, and nothing will satisfy them besides the coach’s head on a platter, I urge the masses to wait one more season. For all of you with little faith, what you see this year might surprise you.

Chris Almeida
Chris Almeida was an editor for The Georgetown Voice and graduated in 2016.

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