WASHINGTON (AP)—Hall of Fame coach John Thompson objected when his sons came up with the idea of playing each other. Sometimes, it seems, Pops knows best.
“He’s right every now and then,” John Thompson III said. “And he was right about this.”
The older sibling beat up on kid brother Ronny Thompson on Monday night, guiding No. 18 Georgetown to a 69-54 victory over Ball State in their first meeting as head coaches. The Hoyas have agreed to return the visit next year, but John III isn’t sure he can go through it again.
“We may cancel that,” he said. “This is hard. I knew it would be difficult, and it was much more difficult, to tell you the truth, than I ever thought it would be. That’s my brother. I want them to have some success. I want to watch their tapes in a manner in which to help them rather than figure out to beat them.”
Pops, as his sons call him, barely moved a facial muscle as he watched the mismatch from his courtside seat, lest he be perceived as showing any impartiality. He told Ronny the game was a “stupid” idea when both appeared on the radio earlier in the day, and he showed up wearing a neutral black baseball cap with a gray letter “T” specially embroidered on the front.
“This is Thompson. That means it doesn’t have to be Ball State or Georgetown,” said the coach led Georgetown for 27 years and won an NCAA title in 1984. “This is what you call personal branding.”
“I’m rooting for Thompson,” he added. “I like my chances. But a Thompson has to lose, and that’s the frustrating feeling of a game like this.”
After the game was done and the sons had hugged at midcourt, the father remained stoic: “If you’re mother and father were playing, who would you root for? … I’m proud of both of them.”
His sons hardly engaged in a fair fight. The nationally ranked Hoyas (4-1) of the Big East were bigger, stronger and more talented than their jet-lagged opponents from the Mid-American Conference. Georgetown never trailed, shot 52 percent, controlled the paint and had assists on 13 of its 14 first-half field goals to take a 40-28 lead at the break.
“My brother has layers and layers of 6-8, 6-9,” said Ronny Thompson, a first-year head coach with plenty of rebuilding to do. “You can’t offset Mother Nature sometimes.”
Jeff Green, who had scored 10 points in his last two games combined, had 12 of his 14 in the first half. Freshman DaJuan Summers scored 12 points, and freshman Vernon Macklin scored more points (10) than he had previously in the entire season combined. The Hoyas played again without swingman Tyler Crawford, who has lost 25 pounds during a battle with strep throat and is working to regain his strength.
Micah Rollin and Anthony Newell scored 10 points apiece to lead the Cardinals (2-4), who were playing their third game in four days and had to take a redeye to Washington after a Saturday game in a tournament in Las Vegas. Rollin got sick and had to miss stretches of the game.
“He gets really, really intense and throws up,” Ronny Thompson said. “He’s really intense in that way. We try to cut back on what he eats in pregame.”
Ball State has lost four straight, but this one wasn’t like the others.
“I’d be lying if I told you that it was just like playing another game,” Ronny Thompson said. “I wanted to beat him something terrible, to be honest with you. And I think my guys felt that. But it’s different. It’s one of those deals where I wanted to beat him, but after the game it’s a lose-lose deal.”
While Ronny, 37, is a rookie head coach, 40-year-old John III is in his third year at Georgetown following four years at Princeton. The brothers were on opposite benches only once before, when the older brother’s Princeton team beat Georgetown in the 1999 NIT—when Ronny was an assistant with the Hoyas.
The brothers had trouble staying focused while preparing for the game. Ronny said he is so used to watching Georgetown’s tapes with an eye toward helping John III that he had to hit rewind—he had temporarily forgotten that he was supposed to be scouting for a way to beat the Hoyas, not assist them.
“Last night, they’re practicing at our gym,” John III said. “And I wanted to watch the practice—not to try to get any competitive advantage. I just had never seen my brother run a practice.”
While the winning brother isn’t looking forward to next year’s rematch, the losing brother now considers it necessary. After all, he needs to get even.
“No doubt about it,” Ronny said. “And he knows that.”