By Earl Heath, Contributing Sports Writer
John Thompson Jr. passed away this week at the age of 78. He was a disciplinary basketball coach that got the best out of all his players and molded them into men. He was the first black coach to win a National title.
Thompson coached at Georgetown from 1972 to 1999 and led the Hoyas to the 1984 NCAA championship with Patrick Ewing. He compiled an all-time record of 596–239 and reached three Final Fours in his 27 seasons as a coach.
Thomson played collegiately at Providence College then went on to play for the Boston Celtics backing up Hall of Famer Bill Russell. He played on NBA title teams in 1965 and 1966.
He took over the head coaching job at Georgetown in 1971. While there he coached future Hall of Famers including Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson. His players not only excelled on but also off the court. He had a 97 percent graduation rate among his players.
Current Providence College coach Ed Cooley released a statement: “Thompson was a pioneer whose impact extended far beyond basketball. His message was always real and authentic, as his passion was helping people to be better… as a mentor he taught me about fit and loyalty and I will always be grateful for the doors he opened up for so many black coaches. My heart is heavy today it was an honor to have known him.”
At 6-10 he towered over players, coaches, and officials and at times he used it to his advantage. During one game an official ejected a Georgetown player. Thompson was irate screaming and yelling at the official he then called time out. After the timeout was over the payer that was ejected was back on the floor and finished the game.
He was known as a stern coach and always had his players prepared. ”When you played against his team you had to be ready for high intensity,’ said PJ Carlesimo a former rival head coach from Seaton Hall.
In the early eighties he along with Dave Gavitt (Providence College), Mike Tranghese, and Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) helped form The Big East conference.
It was THE Conference in America to watch basketball. BIG EAST Mondays drew millions of viewers on ESPN. It was the only game in town. They got the best players from all over the country. It was fast pace physical basketball they played in Big arenas. Places like Madison Square Garden in New York, The Spectrum in Philadelphia, The Capitol Center in Washington D.C., and The Carrier Dome Syracuse.
In 1985 three of the final four teams in the NCAA tourney were from the BIG EAST- Villanova, Georgetown, St Johns were joined by Memphis. He was inducted into the Naismith Hall of fame in 2006.
Thompson retired from coaching during the 1998–1999 season. His son, John Thompson III, went on to win 278 games as a head coach from 2004 to 2017.