- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

Karl Hobbs was dumbfounded.

After taking the coaching job at George Washington four years ago, he went to a summer league game at Georgetown to watch one of his players, an incoming point guard who signed with former coach Tom Penders and decided to keep his commitment.

“The first time I saw [T.J. Thompson] play, I wish he had left,” Hobbs said. “I couldn’t believe how bad he was. I called the assistant coaches in a state of panic. His demeanor, the way he was playing, he was all-cool. He was playing against [Kevin] Braswell, the kid from Georgetown. He was taking my young man to school. I called my assistant coaches and said, ‘We better go get a point guard quick.’ ”

Hobbs is glad he didn’t. After SirValiant Brown left school early, the 5-foot-10 Thompson was his only point guard that first season and went on to make the Atlantic 10 all-rookie team. And now as a senior, the all-conference guard has been the catalyst all season for 12th-seeded GW (22-7), which will meet fifth-seeded Georgia Tech in Nashville, Tenn., tomorrow night in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“When Penders got fired, I did think about reopening [the recruiting process],” said Thompson, who passed on scholarships from Georgetown and Virginia. “But then I decided I made a commitment to George Washington and I was going to honor it. I picked GW because I knew I could play right away there. I think it turned out pretty good.”

Thompson can change a game with his scoring — like his explosive stretch in the A-10 title game win over Saint Joseph’s — and leads the team at 13.8 points a game. Perhaps more importantly, he also managed to force balance into the Colonials’ frenetic offense, which had six players average at least 8.1 points and led the A-10 in scoring.

“He always keeps me focused on the court: the leadership he brings and the things he does on the court, the big shots he knocks down and he’s a great passer,” GW forward Mike Hall said. “He carried us against Saint Joe’s by taking and making the big shots.”

Thompson engineered the decisive 12-point run in the win over the Hawks, which gave GW its first A-10 tournament title and an automatic NCAA berth. He had the go-ahead layup and wound up with eight of his 15 points in the decisive stretch. And he also took over a big game in the BB&T; Classic title game in December, when he had 27 points and made five of seven 3s as the Colonials stunned then-No. 12 Maryland 100-91.

He played with and against big-timers at now-defunct Newport Prep, where his teammates included eventual NBA players Rodney White (Golden State) and Jamison Brewer (New York), college star James White (Cincinnati) and former Georgetown player Victor Samnick.

However, his hoops education began at home in Germantown. His father, Ron, played at Division II Clarion (Pa.) State; his older sister, K.C., played at Bowie State; and his younger brother, Landy, just ended his career at Mount St. Mary’s. T.J. didn’t show much brotherly love when he made five of six 3-pointers in a win over Landy’s Mountaineers earlier this season.

“[My dad] always stressed never to use my height as an excuse,” Thompson said. “Growing up I was smaller than everybody, and a lot of people told me I would never be able to play Division I basketball. That made me work even harder to prove those people wrong.”

That woeful summer appearance was just a bad coincidence. Thompson didn’t know his new coach was in the stands and admitted he was goofing around.

“It was summer league, so it was different,” he said. “I wasn’t really that serious. I guess Coach feels every time you get on the court you should play hard.”

Hobbs, a former Connecticut assistant, never had another problem with Thompson’s work ethic —”Ray Allen is the only other player I have coached who has never taken a practice off” — and now can laugh at the incident.

“I was scared to death,” Hobbs said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. This kid is awful.’ It was unbelievable. He took every shot. I am all excited. This is my first head-coaching job. I go see my point guard play. And I can’t go out and get another one at that late date. I am in trouble.”

Little did he know.

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