Talking Georgetown Hoops with John Thompson III

Last season John Thompson III led the Georgetown men’s basketball team to the NCAA Final Four for the first time in 22 years, and it looks like he’ll have another big season.

By: Garrett M. Graff

Last season John Thompson III led the Georgetown men’s basketball team to the NCAA Final Four for the first time in 22 years, and it looks like he’ll have another big season.

JT III, as he’s known to fans, came to Georgetown in 2004 from Princeton, where he’d been coaching at his alma mater. His father, John Thompson Jr., was Georgetown’s coach for more than 25 years and retired in 1999. Young John, a DC native, was an All-Met basketball player at Gonzaga High School before going to Princeton. He and his wife, Monica, who has been fighting breast cancer, launched a foundation this fall to help local charities.

Growing up, I never went through the process of “Hey, I’m going to be a basketball coach.” I had this father saying, “You’d be crazy to get into basketball.”

I was hearing the message from home—you shouldn’t do it. “I wasted all that money sending you to Princeton” was what I was told when I said I was going to start coaching.

I went to Princeton because I wanted to learn from Coach [Pete] Carril.

You go through this recruiting process of how much potential you have, what a great player you are, and I go there and I’m sitting in the bleachers with Coach Carril and we’re watching Billy Ryan, a senior, work out. The coach sat there and told me what a terrible player I was, what I needed to work on, and what I needed to do to improve: “And if you don’t, you’re gonna play JV.” He reminded me a lot of my father.

People think there’s a big difference between the Big East and the Ivy League, and there is in terms of the talent level and the exposure, but the way I go about my job is identical in either league. You have a big-picture goal that you want to accomplish, and then you forget about it—you focus on getting through each day, improving, trying to help, and when we pick up our head at the end of the year, we see where we stand.

It was very exciting to come home to Georgetown, to be a part of this program. In many ways I felt on the periphery. Pop was here, my brother went here, and I was the kid who went off to Princeton. To be an integral part of Georgetown is something that was, is, will continue to be extremely special.

It’s not hard [to sell recruits on Washington]. You open the door and walk around. It’s not just the most powerful city in the world; it’s a place where no matter what your field is you’ll find leaders in that field here. It’s a terrific place to be and a terrific place to live. Just in terms of the big picture—your experiences beyond basketball—there’s no better place than Washington, DC.

The pressure comes from within. It comes from my wanting to represent this institution well. I’ve been John Thompson’s son my whole life. There was pressure taking the job at Princeton being John Thompson’s son and being one coach removed from Pete Carril, the legendary Hall of Fame coach.

Washington is not just home. It’s a place that’s very special. We have so many children that are in need in many different areas. Monica and I feel that our foundation’s emphasis is bringing attention to existing entities that do good work.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington is storied—they’re not under the radar—but they provide such a key service to so many kids. Clubhouse #2 off New York Avenue was the first place where I played a sport and the first place my dad played a sport, and they are in need. We want to do what we can to keep that clubhouse afloat.

We chose the Capital Breast Care Center because of what Monica is going through, what we’re going through.

There are some things that Pop did that will stay the same and never change, and there are some things that are going to be different. But neither one is about my trying to be the same or be different. I’m doing things the way I think they should be done.

The life of a coach is not a 9-to-5 job. It’s not a nine-months-a-year job. It’s all-encompassing. I’m not sure there’s ever a time I’m not in basketball mode.

You want to win. At the end of the day you want to win. Winning is important. Winning is very, very important.

This article can be found in the December 2007 issue of The Washingtonian.