Even if he didn’t plan it, Georgetown coach John Thompson III doled out hugs in a distinct line after the Hoyas beat North Carolina in the East Region final Sunday. He and his father, John Thompson Jr., shared the first embrace, naturally. Big John built the foundation of Georgetown basketball and added many floors. His son built it back up.
The father-son dynamic of the Thompsons, well-chronicled throughout the NCAA tournament, will receive even more scrutiny this weekend at the Final Four. Georgetown is back in it for the first time since 1985, when Big John was the coach. The relationship, in all its forms, is real, complex and likely impervious to overstatement.
So is the bond between Thompson and his old coach at Princeton, which is why Pete Carril was next for a hug.
Thompson’s development as a coach came largely because of the Princeton effect, embodied by the little man who was wearing a Georgetown cap on his bald head. Now 76, Carril lacks Big John’s physical presence and blood ties with Thompson, but his spiritual presence and basketball ties remain nearly as profound.
“[Carril] is such a part of my consciousness,” Thompson told reporters after the overtime victory that sent the Hoyas to Atlanta and tomorrow’s national semifinal game against Ohio State. “There’s not too many decisions on the floor or off the floor where I don’t have Coach’s voice in my head. He told me how to think and see the game.”
And he schooled Thompson in the precise and patient Princeton offense, another hot tournament topic. That is one that Thompson has heard too much about and spends a lot of time downplaying.
“I think too much is made of that,” he said. “People say the Princeton offense, and what pops into people’s heads are slow white guys that are gonna hold the ball, for, you know, 35, 40 seconds and then take a 3-pointer and then get a layup.
“Some of the teams, the teams I played on when I was at Princeton, we did that. But for the most part, that’s just a connotation, an image that comes up. When I say, ‘the Princeton offense,’ I just think of guys playing together, sharing the ball, talented basketball, talented, unselfish players.”
No one seemed happier to hear Thompson’s comments than Carril.
“We buried the Princeton offense, and the Georgetown offense was born,” he said in a telephone interview this week.
“The things he did to add to the old style, the little nuances, the way they got their shots, the way they incorporate individual things we never did at Princeton to keep the flowing, it was a remarkable job. I’m tired of hearing about the Princeton offense.”
At once affable and cantankerous (in other words, the quintessential curmudgeon), Carril seems to have lost little of the bite he employed with success as Princeton’s coach from 1967 to 1997 before he became an NBA assistant coach and taught the you-know-what to the big boys.
Carril was tough on Thompson, as he was on all his players. He said even Big John, a large, intimidating man whose coaching nature ventured way beyond prickly, was a little put off.
“It took a while for him to get used to that,” Carril said.
An undersized forward at Gonzaga High School in Northwest, the 6-foot-4 Thompson drew little interest from the big college programs and, Carril said, had to take his college boards twice to meet Princeton’s lofty Ivy League standards.