- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2014

Both hands gripping the sides of a clear podium, John Thompson Jr. leaned toward a microphone Friday afternoon.

He had not prepared a speech. Though the event on Georgetown’s campus was built around the groundbreaking for a center that will bear his name — the John R. Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletics Center — any sense of formality was lost when Thompson spoke. At 73 years old, he’s too far along for pomp and circumstance. It was never his gig to begin with.

With many of his famous former players in the front row, Thompson talked about academics, race, Georgetown and life. He jabbed Allen Iverson for not wearing his standard backward hat and baggy T-shirts. He recounted that he asked Iverson why he had dressed on the nicer side. “Because I didn’t want to hear your mouth,” his former guard told him.

Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutumbo, Alonzo Mourning and the Wizards’ Otto Porter laughed with the audience. As Thompson talked inside a large white tent for the event, all the hints of construction were outside. Random fencing and a construction trailer inhabited by workers in reflective vests and hard hats were nearby. They were already in the construction process for the $62 million, four-story, 144,000-square-foot facility. The concrete beneath ceremony attendees had black tread marks on it.

Thompson was about 100 feet from aging McDonough Arena when he spoke. The gym opened in 1952. Thompson became coach in 1972. During his 27 years as the Hoyas’ coach, Thompson was handed blueprints for a new facility five times. The ongoing tease resulted in what turned out to be inaccurate advice for his son.

John Thompson III, the current men’s basketball coach, had a meeting with an architecture company his first or second season. He took the blueprints for a new practice facility to his dad’s house. His father directed him to take a look in the back of a closet in a third-floor bedroom. Blueprints.

“They’re going to show you blueprints every couple of years, it’s never going to happen,” Thompson Jr. told his son.

Friday’s shovels proved him wrong. It also displayed the directness and impact of Thompson Jr. He talked specifically to former Georgetown players from the podium, mentioning Roy Hibbert was “terrible” for the Indiana Pacers in the playoffs last year, before pointing out what a talent he feels Hibbert is and his reverence for him personally. Thompson also made circuitous but well-taken points about academics and impact, arguing graduation rate was not the prominent signal of success it’s often touted to be.

He also, true to combative, contrarian form, said it’s not facilities that win.

“Human resources are what wins,” Thompson Jr. said.

Not long after, he sat as the audience stood and applauded.

Georgetown expects the new center to push it toward facility relevance. The school, particularly the men’s basketball program, has legacy to sell to recruits. But, it does not have shiny facilities to present them.

Helping basketball recruiting is one aspect of the new facility. It will also usher non-revenue sports into a more standardized existence with new lockers, practice areas, improved sports medicine availability and more.

Thompson joined university president John J. DeGioia, university board of directors chair Paul Tagliabue and athletics director Lee Reed, among others, to break ground Friday.

The ceremonial steps of jamming shovels into boxes of dirt came after speeches about the past, none more engaging, or longer, than Thompson‘s.

The groundbreaking will also give him some closure. In two years, after the expected ribbon-cutting to open the new facility, he can finally throw out those blueprints.

Follow Todd Dybas on Twitter.

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