- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2006

There’s probably not much point in comparing John Thompson Jr. and John Thompson III — or their basketball teams — but let’s do it anyway, just for fun.

Big John, who coached Georgetown to 596 victories, one national title and three Final Four appearances from 1972 to 1999, was loud, intimidating and frequently argumentative.

Little John, the honcho of Hoyas hoops these days and nights, is soft-spoken, accessible and co-operative.

Call it a clear case of like father, not like son.

The two men have one thing in common, though. Each has moved swiftly to restore the Georgetown men’s basketball program to prominence.

When Thompson pere meandered over from the District’s old St. Anthony’s High School, the Hoyas were coming off a 3-23 season under Jack Magee. When Thompson fils moseyed south from Princeton last season, they were reeling from a 13-15 campaign under Craig Esherick.

If we’re counting — and why not? — Little John has a much better record for his first two seasons (36-18) than Dear Old Dad (25-27).

That’s why members of the Hoya Hoop Club were sporting T-shirts that read, “Respect Is Back. Fear Is Next. III” and yowling their heads off Sunday night as No. 15 Georgetown did battle against No. 9 West Virginia at wild and woolly MCI Center. A ghastly 19-point second half doomed the Hoyas to a 69-56 defeat, but that was merely a stumbling block for a team that has compiled two seven-game winning streaks and a 17-5 record. Little John’s gritty and appealing gang should be there for March Madness, and who knows what ultimate triumphs lie ahead.

One thing appears certain: There will be no so-called Hoya Paranoia with his teams — a conveniently euphonious term that turned up in the early ‘80s when Patrick Ewing and his cohorts first achieved national notoriety by knocking opponents hither, thither and yon — legally, of course — in pursuit of basketballs, baskets and wins.

That’s about the time, too, that John Thompson Jr. began avoiding pesky media types, sequestering his teams in distant, secret motels on the road and speaking out forcefully for causes he believed in, such as Proposition 48. Like it or not, Big John was what he was — no way would he let anybody forget it.

Interviewing him in the fall of 1980 for a season preview story, a reporter for the late and lamented Washington Star was astonished to hear a string of eight-letter expletives emerging from Thompson’s mouth. A short time later the unnerved scribe asked assistant coach Billy Stein, “What’s happened to John? I never heard him say anything stronger than ‘darn’ before.”

Stein laughed. “Oh, that’s just John’s new personality,” he sort of explained.

Was it calculated? Sure. Obviously, Thompson had decided to be as intimidating as he wanted his team to be — and succeeded.

Little John obviously patterns his clubs after those of the legendary Pete Carril, his coach and mentor at Princeton. The current Hoyas rely more on finesse than muscle, though they did a pretty good job of pounding the boards against West Virginia.

Georgetown’s motion offense calls for patience, few turnovers and fewer bad shots. They will pass the ball four or five times seeking an open look and can backdoor you to death if big men Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bowman and Jeff Green shake loose underneath. Plus, five of the six top players can shoot the 3.

Does this style work? Well, going into Sunday night’s game, the Hoyas were ranked second nationally in offensive efficiency (points per field goal attempts). Unfortunately, the motion offense doesn’t do much good when a team needs points in a hurry, as Georgetown did in the closing minutes against West Virginia.

“John’s dad emphasized multidefenses and pressure,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who has matched wits with both Thompsons. “John the Third’s teams play very good defense out of their matchup zone, and his halfcourt offense is good. Both styles have worked very well.”

Rich Chvotkin, who has been the Hoyas’ radio broadcaster for 32 years, literally seconds the motion.

“This team uses more of a finesse style, a take-care-of-the-ball style, and takes more time off the clock as opposed to just grinding it out,” he said. “But [to compete at the top level], it pretty much has to bring its ‘A’ game every night.”

That has always been the case for Georgetown, a private school with a relatively small undergraduate enrollment of 6,164 and without a suitable on-campus arena or much hope of getting one. When Big John started coaching, the Hoyas played at ancient McDonough Arena, a 2,000-seat bandbox that now hardly seems adequate for scrimmages. MCI is fine for big games — and the Hoyas soon will be playing lots of them — but Little John’s program is at a distinct disadvantage against Big East rivals with impressive buildings that aid the recruiting process.

Otherwise, things are looking up on the Hilltop. Can a school strike it rich twice, more than three decades apart, with coaches bearing the same name but different ways of winning games? Right now it sure looks that way.

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