Twenty springs ago John Thompson the father led Georgetown to the NCAA crown, becoming the first black coach to win the national title.
Twenty springs later, Tuesday to be exact, John Thompson the son took the reins of the one-time powerhouse, completing a circle of family and familiarity in Washington that you see all the time on Capitol Hill or Pennsylvania Avenue, where power begets power among the ruling class.
But this is no patronage deal. This is no desperate grab at lost glory.
For as much as John Thompson III is his father's son, he has spent the past two decades proving beyond a doubt that he is, most of all, his own man.
"I am John Thompson's son," Thompson III said Tuesday. "I have been John Thompson's son for 38 years. The pressure that comes along with that – no one is going to put more pressure on me than myself."
As a child Thompson III was a constant at Georgetown practices and games. But as an adult he chose both to play and cut his coaching teeth at Princeton, working as an assistant under Hall of Fame coach Pete Carril and current Northwestern coach Bill Carmody.
He became head coach of the Tigers in 2000, and after leading Princeton to two NCAA tournament appearances, two Ivy League titles and a 68-42 record in four seasons Thompson is more than prepared to be a Big East head coach.
He isn't just a name. He represents more than just memories.
"I'm one of the few people who can leave home and come home," Thompson said.
This obviously is how the school sees it also. It was not an oversight that in the official press release heralding Thompson's hiring, the first mention of any father-son ties is buried deep in the seventh paragraph.
And while much of the discussion at Tuesday's press conference centered on Thompson the father – or "Pops" as Thompson the son calls him – Georgetown president John DeGiora went out of his way to praise his new coach's credentials regardless of last name.
That doesn't mean you can ignore the power of the name, nor should the Hoyas. There can be no minimizing the shot in the arm this hiring will have, how having a Thompson on the sideline should reinvigorate the program.
For Georgetown this couldn't come soon enough. Under longtime Thompson assistant Craig Esherick the Hoyas had fallen into mediocrity. They finished 13-15 last season, their worst showing in 31 years. Their nine-game losing streak to end the year was the longest since the season before Thompson the father arrived and turned a moribund program in a national powerhouse.
That run was capped by the Patrick Ewing-led national championship 20 years ago, the victory that propelled Thompson into icon status across the country.
At the time black coaches were exceedingly rare. Basketball decision makers still didn't trust blacks to be capable of running teams, not just playing on them. Thompson turned that world on its ear.
The 6-foot-10 former Boston Celtic combined brilliant X-and-O skills with acumen for recruiting, motivating and instilling discipline in his players. He won 596 games, reaching three Final Fours in 27 seasons at GU, and in the process opened doors for coaches of color that his son enters a Big East that featured five black head coaches last season.
But since the Hall of Famer retired, the program has faded. Esherick couldn't keep the recruiting magic going and Georgetown fans had to watch Mid-Atlantic natives such as Juan Dixon and Carmelo Anthony dominate Final Fours for other schools in recent years. If Thompson the father was still coaching it is easy to envision him throwing a big arm around those guys and saying, "You're coming with me, son."
Thompson the son won't have that kind of recruiting power. No one does anymore. But he still has memories of Hoya magic to sell. He still has the academic excellence of the school, its prime location in D.C. and a fine home court in the downtown MCI Center.
Not to mention his own successful coaching track record.
With the Big East adding five programs next fall – four of whom (Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette) have reached Final Fours – it was so important for Georgetown to hit the daily double and hire the guy who can rekindle the past while driving into the future.
"We are going to work our tails off," Thompson III promised, well aware of the challenge ahead of him.
A John Thompson again is in charge at Georgetown.
Family ties and fresh ideas for the Hoyas; the perfect mix at the perfect time.
- John Thompson
- John Thompson III