Down a level may be way to go

Ron Bailey, Publisher
Hoya Report

When John Thompson III resigned as head men’s basketball coach at Georgetown last week, segments of the Hoya Nation reveled, as their desire for a new bench leader in Blue and Grey was realized. These sentiments were expressed and challenged vigorously on the Premium Court message board.

Immediately after Thompson, the team’s coach for 13 years departed, names of a possible successor poured out like water out of a hydrant, with almost as much velocity. It’s been a heady discussion, seeing fans announce their preferences with conviction, sharing their opinions liberally. Think of a hot rotisserie league pre-draft session, the perceived pros and cons of possible coaches being substituted for that typically resigned to players.

Alas, the only opinion that ultimately matters are those of Paul Tagliabue and Lee Reed. The pair – a former GU student athlete, National Football League commissioner, present board member along with the school’s current Athletic Director, respectively – are leading Georgetown’s effort at finding a replacement, being jointly charged with heading the school’s search committee.

Where is the effort in the three days since news of Thompson leaving broke?

As reported first by, leading coaching names like Mike Brey (Notre Dame) and Shaka Smart (Texas) are no longer being considered. On Premium Court, the possibility of Tommy Amaker deciding to lead Georgetown has been analyzed vis a vis information provided by sources, and a look at what he would lose/gain from leaving Harvard for The Hilltop. In sum, any decision by Amaker to leave Harvard would be difficult, yet he's still in play.


Other names reported here – Central Florida’s coach and a DC guy, Johnny Dawkins have been discussed, as have present Rhode Island bench leader Dan Hurley. Like Dawkins and Amaker, add other District-Maryland-Virginia products Sidney Lowe of the NBA’s Washington Wizards, Kenny Johnson, a successful assistant at Louisville and Virginia native and Mount St. Mary’s coach, Jamion Christian to the mix. All the above have been subject to rumor and discussion by reputable sources, hence their treatment by this site. Don't forget Hoya great Pat Ewing, who has received national media endorsement and that from older ex-G'Town players.

A reasonable analysis of the last two paragraphs, with Dawkins and Amaker being exceptions, is that Georgetown may be facing a fork in its search; guys that presently run nationally recognized programs and as such are widely known, haven’t so far been willing to leave current pastures. Ewing has never led a program/team.

The trend could soon end – heck the school reportedly wants to end the search enterprise by this weekend’s NCAA Tournament Final Four round – or could become a defining feature. Whether due to the current situation of school and possible aspirant, salary demands or simply a comfort level, nationally established guys may not want to be G’Town’s coach.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Chris Mack wasn’t a household name when Xavier promoted him from within. The same applies to Butler’s Chris Holtmann. Both of those guys have had Georgetown’s number in the BIG EAST Conference recently. You don’t need a current headliner to win or win big; Mack made this year’s NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight round, while Holtmann touched it’s Sweet Sixteen.

One name that may ratify a ‘taking it down a level’ approach is The Mount’s Jamion Christian.

A soon-to-be 35 year old who apprenticed at Emory and Henry, Bucknell, William and Mary plus VCU, the last being under Smart, Christian has led Mount St. Mary’s to two NCAA Tournament berths since starting in 2012, the first being in 2014, while also going to the Big Dance this season.

When in the NCAA Tournament, something G’Town has not experienced in three of four years, Christian et al did work; despite losing in the first four (2014) and first (2017) rounds, MSM acquitted itself well, falling to Albany after a late shot went awry the first time, and defeating New Orleans before narrowly trailing defending national champion Villanova at halftime this year before losing. The last performance led ‘Nova head coach Jay Wright to remark of MSM “They outplayed us”.

For perspective, this kind of success equals two of the schools’ five NCAA Tournament appearances, both within the last three seasons. Overall, he’s won over half of his games (.506), and 62.5% of Northeast Conference tilts. Being in a smaller conference dubbed a ‘one bid league’ - since typically only that conference’s tourney champ goes the Big Dance - increases the impressiveness of what Christian has done at The Mount. The Mountaineers have done just that by becoming Northeast Conference tournament champs twice.

Interviewed yesterday by SB Nation Radio’s Tim Murray, Christian didn’t’ run from another foundation of G’Town basketball – a track record and the expectations it produces.

“The history...some people look at history as pressure, I look at it as exciting” said a verbose Christian, after expressing respect and empathy for the recently departed Thompson. Given that GU Hoops changed the landscape of college basketball after program creator John Thompson, Jr. (the most recent coach’s father) took over in the ‘70’s, “What an exciting challenge it is” to follow what legends created, or as Christian put come behind coaches at a place where “somebody before you did something elite. It’s about embracing the challenge”. He looks at jobs similar to Georgetown as an opportunity, not a burden.

From a practical perspective, guys like Christian could be a necessity; they possibly bring cost efficiency since such guys don’t command the paychecks ‘stars’ do. Additionally, men who have done more with less are used to substituting energy for bells and whistles, i.e. personal planes and other extreme perks are not necessary. Add the necessity to constantly change with personnel, something Christian and other talented non ‘A’ list guys must continuously do, as recruiting is much less predictable below the the non-high major Division I level.

Ah, the ‘R’ word (recruiting) and its sibling, development. Given they are signing players farther down the recruiting ecosystem, mid-major, D2, D3, NAIA and JUCO coaches must use a high level of vision in luring players, targeting guys that CAN be formidable with work. The last point alludes to development, or training players to be better than they are now, or even think they could be.

To that point, Christian’s work has been impressive: At various stops he’s recruited guys who eventually found their way into professional basketball, like Marcus Thornton (William and Mary), while also helping to improve Troy Daniels, Briante Weber and Treveon Graham, a trio of VCU standouts who are current pay-for-play guys. At The Mount, of the twelve guys he’s graduated, six are reportedly playing international ball, the other half dozen attending graduate school.

This article is not a call for G'Town to ignore big-name guys, it is designed to spark a conversation and possible revelation: As possibly Christian and others can and should show, non-limelight coaches shouldn’t be ignored. They just might be the way to go.

And there's nothing wrong with that. At all.

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