Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Ewing hopes to carry on Thompson’s legacy at Georgetown

4 Comments

WASHINGTON — Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing said Friday he will try to carry on the legacy of his former coach and lifelong mentor John Thompson, who died at 78.

Ewing, who won the 1984 national championship at Georgetown as a player under Thompson, returned to the school as coach in 2017 after a Hall of Fame NBA career.

He understands that he is now the school’s strongest link to Thompson, who took over a lowly Hoyas program and turned it into a national powerhouse.

“His legacy will always live on,” Ewing said during a video call with reporters. “Through me, through Alonzo (Mourning), through Dikembe (Mutombo), through all of the people he’s coached.”

“He has done a great job of teaching us not only to be great athletes but also great human beings. Now it’s my role, my responsibility to keep doing those things to the kids I’m teaching.”

Ewing, who’s 58, said Thompson was like a second father. They met when Ewing was a 16-year-old high school sophomore and remained close in the decades since.

“His teachings continue to guide me,” Ewing said. “I will definitely miss the opportunity to pick up a phone and call him with whatever questions I might have. Not only just coaching but also my life.”

Ewing said Georgetown players would likely wear a patch on their jerseys honoring Thompson, and he planned to speak to the university about putting Thompson’s name on its home court. Georgetown opened the Thompson Center on campus in 2016 to serve athletes in all sports. It features a life-size statue of Thompson in the main lobby.

Ewing said he visited with Thompson just two days before he died. Thompson had been hospitalized but was released to his home a couple weeks before his death.

“I was able to go over there the Friday before he passed,” Ewing said. “We sat and talked and just laughed. I didn’t know it was going to be goodbye because I was planning to go back. Then I got the text late on Sunday that he had passed.”

Arizona’s Akinjo immediately eligible after waiver

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

TUCSON, Ariz. —  Arizona guard James Akinjo has been granted a waiver by the NCAA and will immediately be eligible after transferring from Georgetown.

The decision announced Tuesday gives Akinjo two years of eligibility left.

A 6-foot guard, Akinjo was the Big East freshman of the year in 2018-19 after averaging 13.4 points and 5.2 assists. Akinjo appeared in seven games for the Hoyas last season before opting to transfer.

The Oakland, California, native arrived in Tucson last spring and was able to practice with the Wildcats.

Akinjo could play a key role on a team that lost three freshmen who declared early for the NBA draft.

Coaching legend John Thompson dies at 78

Getty Images
Leave a comment

WASHINGTON — John Thompson, the imposing Hall of Famer who turned Georgetown into a “Hoya Paranoia” powerhouse and became the first Black coach to lead a team to the NCAA men’s basketball championship, has died. He was 78.

His death was announced in a family statement released by Georgetown on Monday. No details were disclosed.

“Our father was an inspiration to many and devoted his life to developing young people not simply on but, most importantly, off the basketball court. He is revered as a historic shepherd of the sport, dedicated to the welfare of his community above all else,” the statement said. “However, for us, his greatest legacy remains as a father, grandfather, uncle, and friend. More than a coach, he was our foundation. More than a legend, he was the voice in our ear everyday.”

One of the most celebrated and polarizing figures in his sport, Thompson took over a moribund Georgetown program in the 1970s and molded it in his unique style into a perennial contender, culminating with a national championship team anchored by center Patrick Ewing in 1984.

Georgetown reached two other title games with Thompson in charge and Ewing patrolling the paint, losing to Michael Jordan’s North Carolina team in 1982 and to Villanova in 1985.

At 6-foot-10, with an ever-present white towel slung over his shoulder, Thompson literally and figuratively towered over the Hoyas for decades, becoming a patriarch of sorts after he quit coaching in 1999.

One of his sons, John Thompson III, was hired as Georgetown’s coach in 2004. When the son was fired in 2017, the elder Thompson — known affectionately as “Big John” or “Pops” to many — was at the news conference announcing Ewing as the successor.

Along the way, Thompson said what he thought, shielded his players from the media and took positions that weren’t always popular. He never shied away from sensitive topics — particularly the role of race in both sports and society — and he once famously walked off the court before a game to protest an NCAA rule because he felt it hurt minority athletes.

“I’ll probably be remembered for all the things that kept me out of the Hall of Fame, ironically, more than for the things that got me into it,” Thompson said on the day he was elected to the Hall in 1999.

Thompson became coach of the Hoyas in 1972 and began remaking a team that was 3-23 the previous season. Over the next 27 years, he led Georgetown to 14 straight NCAA tournaments (1979-92), 24 consecutive postseason appearances (20 NCAA, 4 NIT), three Final Fours (1982, 1984, 1985) and won six Big East tournament championships.

“He was one of a kind,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, a fierce rival for many years in the Big East Conference, said Monday. “There aren’t that many. He brought a presence to the game that nobody does, has. He was a great coach, but he was also a role model for a lot of coaches– white coaches and Black coaches.”

Employing a physical, defense-focused approach that frequently relied on a dominant center — Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo were among his other pupils — Thompson compiled a 596-239 record (.715 winning percentage). He had 26 players drafted by the NBA.

One of his honors — his selection as coach of the U.S. team for the 1988 Olympics — had a sour ending when the Americans had to settle for the bronze medal. It was a result so disappointing that Thompson put himself on a sort of self-imposed leave at Georgetown for a while, coaching practices and games but leaving many other duties to his assistants.

Off the court, Thompson was both a role model and a lightning rod. A stickler for academics, he kept a deflated basketball on his desk, a reminder to his players that a degree was a necessity because a career in basketball relied on a tenuous “nine pounds of air.”

The school boasted that 76 of 78 players who played four seasons under Thompson received their degrees.

He was a Black coach who recruited mostly Black players to a predominantly white Jesuit university in Washington, and Thompson never hesitated to speak out on behalf of his players.

One of the most dramatic moments in Georgetown history came on Jan. 14, 1989, when he walked off the court to a standing ovation before the tipoff of a home game against Boston College, demonstrating in a most public way his displeasure against NCAA Proposition 42.

The rule denied athletic scholarships to freshmen who didn’t meet certain requirements, and Thompson said it was biased against underprivileged students. Opposition from Thompson, and others, led the NCAA to modify the rule.

Thompson’s most daring move came that same year, when he summoned notorious drug kingpin Rayful Edmond III for a meeting in the coach’s office. Thompson warned Edmond to stop associating with Hoyas players and to leave them alone, using his respect in the Black community to become one of the few people to stare down Edmond and not face a reprisal.

Though aware of his influence, Thompson did not take pride in becoming the first Black coach to take a team to the Final Four, and he let a room full of reporters know it when asked his feelings on the subject at a news conference in 1982.

“I resent the hell out of that question if it implies I am the first Black coach competent enough to take a team to the Final Four,” Thompson said. “Other Blacks have been denied the right in this country; coaches who have the ability. I don’t take any pride in being the first Black coach in the Final Four. I find the question extremely offensive.”

Born Sept. 2, 1941, John R. Thompson Jr. grew up in Washington, D.C. His father was always working – on a farm in Maryland and later as a laborer in the city – and could neither read nor write.

“I never in my life saw my father’s hands clean,” Thompson told The Associated Press in 2007. “Never. He’d come home and scrub his hands with this ugly brown soap that looked like tar. I thought that was the color of his hands. When I was still coaching, kids would show up late for practice and I’d (say) … `My father got up every morning of his life at 5 a.m. to go to work. Without an alarm.`”

Thompson’s parents emphasized education, but he struggled in part of because of poor eyesight and labored in Catholic grammar school. He was moved to a segregated public school, had a growth spurt and became good enough at basketball to get into John Carroll, a Catholic high school, where he led the team to 55 consecutive victories and two city titles.

He went to Providence College as one of the most touted basketball prospects in the country and led the Friars to the first NCAA bid in school history. He graduated in 1964 and played two seasons with Red Auerbach’s Boston Celtics, earning a pair of championship rings as a sparingly used backup to Bill Russell.

Thompson returned to Washington, got his master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the University of the District of Columbia and went 122-28 over six seasons at St. Anthony’s before accepting the job at Georgetown, an elite school that had relatively few Black students. Faculty and students rallied around him after a bedsheet with racist words was hung inside the school’s gym before a game during the 1974-75 season.

Thompson sheltered his players with closed practices, tightly controlled media access and a prohibition on interviews with freshmen in their first semester — a restriction that still stands for Georgetown’s basketball team. Combined with Thompson’s flashes of emotion and his players’ rough-and-tumble style of play, it wasn’t long before the words “Hoya Paranoia” came to epitomize the new era of basketball on the Hilltop campus.

Georgetown lost the 1982 NCAA championship game when Fred Brown mistakenly passed the ball to North Carolina’s James Worthy in the game’s final seconds. Two years later, Ewing led an 84-75 win over Houston in the title game. The Hoyas were on the verge of a repeat the following year when they were stunned in the championship game by coach Rollie Massimino’s Villanova team in one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.

Success allowed Thompson to rake in money through endorsements, but he ran afoul of his Georgetown bosses when he applied for a gambling license for a business venture in Nevada in 1995. Thompson, who liked playing the slot machines in Las Vegas, reluctantly dropped the application after the university president objected.

Centers Ewing, Mourning and Mutombo turned Georgetown into “Big Man U” under Thompson, although his last superstar was guard Allen Iverson, who in 1996 also became the first player under Thompson to leave school early for the NBA draft.

“Thanks for Saving My Life Coach,” Iverson wrote at the start of an Instagram post Monday with photos of the pair.

The Hoyas teams in the 1990s never came close to matching the achievements of the 1980s, and Thompson’s era came to a surprising and sudden end when he resigned in the middle of the 1998-99 season, citing distractions from a pending divorce.

Thompson didn’t fade from the limelight. He became a sports radio talk show host and a TV and radio game analyst, joining the very profession he had frustrated so often as a coach. He loosened up, allowing the public to see his lighter side, but he remained pointed and combative when a topic mattered to him.

A torch was passed in 2004, when John Thompson III became Georgetown’s coach. The younger Thompson, with “Pops” often watching from the stands or sitting in the back of the room for news conferences, returned the Hoyas to the Final Four in 2007.

Another son, Ronny Thompson, was head coach for one season at Ball State and is now a TV analyst.

Big East assistants form Coaches For Action, fighting for social change

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It started the way everything in the COVID-19 era starts: With a group chat and a zoom call.

Before long, all 21 of the minority assistant coaches in the Big East were involved and Coaches For Action formed. This comes of the heels of the formation of the Coaches Coalition For Progress, a similar organization that was launched last month by Oklahoma assistant coach Carlin Hartman and San Francisco head coach Todd Golden, among others.

Inspired by the protests following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Taylor, Marquette’s Dwayne Killings, UConn’s Kimani Young and Villanova’s Kyle Neptune got to work trying to find a way to do more than release a statement or post a black square on Instagram.

“We all shared emotions of disappointment, frustration, confusion,” Young said. “We said we have to lean on each other, figure out a way to get our voices heard.”

The consensus among the coaches was immediate: “We gotta do something.” As Killings put it, “sustainable, substantive change. … Something for our players, to represent them and give them something to stand on.”

Coaches For Action is the by-product, and in the weeks since Killings, Young and Neptune first started hatching the plan, head coaches, athletic directors and the Big East Conference as a whole have given CFA their blessings.

As of today, there are three clearly-defined initiatives that CFA has outlined:

1. Get a Black Lives Matter patch put on the jerseys for all 11 programs and allow the coaches to wear Black Lives Matter pins. Not only will this be a show of unity among the teams in the conference, it will help maintain awareness for the movement. BLM is at the forefront of the news every day today. But there are no sports on right now. The most important and covered election of a generation will occur in November. Big East play will start, at the earliest, in January. The BLM movement may need publicity at that point.

2. “The voting initiative,” as Young put it. Educate their players on the importance of voting, not just in the major elections but on a local level, because “that is how you affect change and impact legislation at local levels,” Young said.

But more broadly, Coaches For Action is pushing for each basketball program — and their university — to host a voter registration drive in October. The goal would be to expand this beyond the confines of their respective campuses. DePaul is in Chicago. Marquette is in Milwaukee. Villanova is one of Philadelphia’s Big 5 programs. Xavier is in Ohio. These are places where communities of color can have a tangible impact on the outcome of elections.

“We can do all that ourselves,” Young said. “You don’t need a ton of money or resources to get with city councilmen and pull that together.”

3. A minority scholarship that will be given annually to a first-generation college student at the Big East schools. The CFA members have already contributed their own money to the fund, and you better believe they will be pushing their head coaches, ADs and athletic departments to donate as well.

The Big East has yet to formally put out a statement regarding CFA, but according to a source, the conference fully supports every initiative. Official confirmation is expected soon, and it’s worth noting here that in an era where just eight of the 65 head coaches at Power Five schools are black, the Big East has five black head coaches.

The impact of CFA will likely be felt around the nation. While they may be the first conference to confirm that every team in their league will be wearing a Black Lives Matter patch this season, they likely will not be the last. Members of CFA have reached out to coaches in different leagues, on the women’s side and in different sports about joining.

“Timing is the most important part,” Young said, “and we just felt like our voices needed to be heard.”

Georgetown transfer Mac McClung commits to Texas Tech

mac mcclung texas tech
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Texas Tech landed a commitment from Mac McClung on Wednesday.

McClung is a transfer from Georgetown where he averaged 15.7 points and 2.4 assists in 21 games during an injury-plagued sophomore season. He was considered one of the best available transfers on the market.

“It was a number of events that made me feel I had no choice but to transfer from Georgetown,” McClung said when he opted to leave Georgetown. “I really wanted to stay, but things throughout my career made me realize that I couldn’t. I’m looking for a place I can call home. A place I can be part of a family and help them succeed.”

That statement is important. McClung is going to be applying for a waiver to get eligible immediately, and nowhere in there is a reference to actual basketball when it comes to McClung’s decision to leave the Hoya program. The last year has been a dramatic one for Georgetown. In November, two players – James Akinjo and Josh LeBlanc – left the program hours before NBC broke the news that LeBlanc and teammates Galen Alexander and Myron Gardner had restraining orders filed against them by a pair of female Georgetown students. McClung spent the season in and out of the lineup with a foot injury that was sustained in practice in February.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft

The goal for Texas Tech is to use McClung — in 2020-21, not 2021-22 — in large part to replace what they lost when Italian native Davide Moretti made the decision to sign with an agent and turn pro in Europe.

And despite what some critics will tell you, it makes sense.

On both sides.

McClung can get a bucket. That’s what he does better than anything else. He broke Allen Iverson’s Virginia state scoring record. He can go, and Texas Tech badly needs players that can go out and get a bucket.

His issue is on the defensive end of the floor. He barely tried to play defense for the Hoyas, and outside of Virginia, there is not place in the world where playing passive defense is more unacceptable than at Texas Tech.

Put another way, if McClung wants to be anything more than a YouTube channel, he needs to learn to guard. At Texas Tech, he won’t play unless he does. And Texas Tech needs someone that can get them buckets.

How can any place be a better fit than that?

Patrick Ewing out of hospital after being treated for COVID-19

patrick ewing georgetown covid
Getty Images
2 Comments

Georgetown basketball coach and former NBA great Patrick Ewing has been released from the hospital and is recovering from COVID-19 at home, his son said Monday.

The 57-year-old Hall of Famer, who played for the Hoyas in college and the New York Knicks in the NBA, announced Friday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and was being treated at a hospital.

Patrick Ewing Jr. said three days later on Twitter that his father was getting better after receiving treatment and thanked the doctors and nurses who looked after him during his hospital stay. He also thanked fans for their thoughts and prayers after his father’s announcement.

“My father is now home and getting better,” Ewing Jr. wrote. “We’ll continue to watch his symptoms and follow the CDC guidelines. I hope everyone continues to stay safe and protect yourselves and your loved ones.”

As a player, the 7-foot Patrick Ewing helped Georgetown win the 1984 NCAA men’s basketball championship and reach two other title games. During his four years playing, Georgetown went 121-23, a winning percentage of .840.

He was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1985 draft after the Knicks won the NBA’s first lottery. Ewing wound up leading New York to the 1994 NBA Finals, where they lost to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets.

Ewing played 17 seasons in the NBA, 15 with the Knicks.

After retiring as a player, he spent 15 years as an assistant or associate coach with four teams in the pros. In April 2017, he returned to Georgetown for his first job as a head coach at any level.

In his first three seasons at his alma mater, Ewing’s teams went a combined 49-46, with zero trips to the NCAA Tournament.

In 2019-20, Georgetown finished the season with seven consecutive losses and a 15-17 record.