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Newz Forum: BASKETBALL: Towel in hand, John Thompson III assumes father's old job

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posted on Oct, 24 2004 @ 02:55 PM
WASHINGTON -- John Thompson III clutched a white towel in his hand as he sat in the bleachers of Georgetown's gym.

"Much like my Pops, I sweat a lot," Thompson said with a laugh.

Like father, like son. At least in some ways.

Same name. Same standards. And a white towel, just like the ones "Pops" wore on his shoulder for 27 years as the Hoyas' coach.

"He reminds me a lot of his father," senior swingman Darrel Owens said. "He always has something positive to say, and every day he preaches hard work."

The comparisons won't stop any time soon. Thompson III will stand on the sideline once patrolled by his Hall of Fame father, having taken the job of trying to resurrect a storied program that has fallen on difficult times since John Thompson Jr. left nearly five years ago.

Living up to the name won't be easy. The father won 596 games and a national championship. Thompson III is taking over a team that went 13-15 last season -- Georgetown's worst in 31 years -- and lost its last nine games, costing Craig Esherick his job. This year's roster has five freshmen and three sophomores.

"Everyone is getting used to me," said Thompson, running his first full week of practice for the season-opener against Temple on Nov. 22. "Everyone is learning how I teach and how I coach, so we have 12 new guys -- 12 freshmen.

"Rebuilding year? We don't talk about it. But we just have to come and work hard and get better. You're going to hear me say that a lot."

In other words, this isn't the time to expect Thompson III to live up to his father's legacy, despite the hopes of success-starved students and alumni.

"Whatever burden is put on me, it's going to come tenfold from that office up there," said Thompson, nodding toward his very own office upstairs in the gym.

Differences between father and son? Plenty, starting with a closer examination of the son's personality.

"He's a very chilled, laid-back kind of guy," guard Ashanti Cook said. "But when he means business, he means business. He's not real lenient, but he's real chill with everything that he does. His practices are tough, but so far he's a good guy."

The phrases "he means business" and "practices are tough" sound familiar, but it's virtually certain that no player ever used the words "real chill" to describe the elder Thompson, whose larger-than-life facade never left room for anything resembling a softer side.

In fact, Thompson III readily cites another Hall of Fame coach, Pete Carril, as having an influence on par -- if not greater -- than the elder Thompson's. Thompson III played for Carril and was later on Carril's staff at Princeton, then took over when Carril retired.

Thompson III continued to run Carril's methodical, team-orientated offense and went 68-42 over four seasons with the Tigers, winning two Ivy League titles. He brings the same philosophy to Georgetown, and many will be eager to see whether such an approach can work in the more competitive, more physical Big East conference.

"We have to tweak and adjust and figure out how to try to put this group into positions to have the best chance for success," Thompson III said. "But the Princeton offense is just (getting) a group of guys playing together, a group of guys sharing."

But there's no escaping the shadow of his father. The elder Thompson was a frequent visitor as players worked out in the gym over the summer, offering advice and encouragement while simultaneously trying to keep his distance.

"He doesn't try to get in his way," Owens said. "He lets his son do what he wants and what he's capable of doing."

Added Thompson III: "I've been fortunate, blessed, lucky -- however you want to look at it -- I think I have pretty good resources, Pops being one of the them. As much feedback as he wants to give, I'll take it -- and figure out what to throw out and figure out what not to throw out. But he's around."

And the story behind the towel? Well, Thompson tried a handkerchief at Princeton, but that apparently didn't do the trick during a televised game last season.

"Moms called me," Thompson said. "She said, 'I don't know if you don't want to pick up the towel, or you don't want people to start talking about the towel, but you look nasty. Maybe you want to get that towel.' It's just that I sweat a lot."

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