by Earl Austin Jr. Of the St. Louis American
John Thompson was best known for his coaching career at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Hired from the high school ranks, Thompson took the Georgetown program from the bottom and built it into a national powerhouse in the 1980’s. Thompson led the Hoyas to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament three times and the national championship in 1984. In doing so, he also became the first African-American head coach to lead his team to a NCAA tournament title.
In 1988, Thompson was selected as the head coach of the United States Olympic basketball team, which he led to a bronze medal. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.
Thompson was hired at Georgetown University in 1972 from straight out of the high school ranks. The Hoyas were 3-23 in the season before they hired him. In 27 years seasons, he compiled a record of 596-239 with 20 NCAA Tournament appearances and 24 consecutive years of postseason basketball. He won numerous Coach of the Year awards during his career and he helped cultivate the careers of future Hall of Fame players such as Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson. Thompson also coached St. Louisan Jahidi White, who was a prep All-American from Cardinal Ritter College Prep.
Former Georgetown coach John Thompson was never was very far from his towel when he ruled Big East basketball, as in this 1998 season.(Photo: Mark Lennihan, AP/File)
Throughout his career, Thompson was also an outspoken and fierce advocate of African-American athletes. In January of 1989, he staged his own walk-out at the beginning of a Big East Conference game against Boston College in protest of the NCAA’s Proposition 48, which he felt discriminated against minority student-athletes through its standardized testing.
A giant of a man at 6 feet 10 inches, Thompson struck an intimidating pose with his physical stature and his Georgetown teams reflected that in their tough and intimidating style of play. Like Thompson himself, the Hoyas were tough and did not back down from any challenge. He made Georgetown into a brand name in the 1980’s and helped usher the Big East Conference into main event status in the college basketball hierarchy.
Thompson was also just as a demanding of his athletes in the classroom as he was with them on the basketball court. Of the 77 players that played all four seasons for Thompson at Georgetown, 75 of them earned their college degrees, which is a graduation rate of 97 percent. He was famous for keeping a deflated basketball on his desk, which signified to athletes what will they do with their lives when the air is taking out of the basketball.
A 1964 graduate of Providence College, Thompson played in the National Basketball Association for the Boston Celtics, where he was a back-up to Hall of Famer Bill Russell on championship teams in 1965 and 1966.
John Thompson photo courtesy of KSDK