Renowned Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson Jr. passed away early Monday morning at the age of 78. Thompson will forever be remembered as a sacred part of Big East basketball.
Thompson was an advocate for racial equality during his 27 seasons as coach of the Hoyas. He led Georgetown to four Final Four appearances, the 1984 NCAA championship and seven Big East Conference titles. His coaching career ended with an incredible record of 596-239.
Thompson was named Big East coach of the year three times and UPI coach of the year in 1987. In 2006, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
Craig Robinson, the National Association of Basketball Coaches executive director, praised Thompson during an interview with The Washington Post.
“John Thompson Jr. altered the history of college basketball through both his on-court success and his passionate advocacy for equality for all coaches and student-athletes,” Robinson said.
Thompson was the first Black coach to win an NCAA title in men’s basketball with the 1984 Georgetown team. He advocated for increased diversity among both basketball players and coaches.
In 1989, Thompson walked off the court before Georgetowns’ game against Boston College, in protest of Proposition 42. The NCAA was barring athletic scholarships to freshmen who did not meet certain scholastic criteria and unequivocally affected Black student-athletes, leading to Thompson’s protest.
A Georgetown varsity jacket from the 1980s hangs in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, due to the immense amount of progression that Thompson instilled in college athletics for minority students.
Thompson coached and mentored future Hall of Fame players Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutomobo and Allen Iverson. Ewing and Iverson have released statements on Twitter, praising Thompson and thanking him for his lasting effect on their lives as both basketball players and people.
“Thanks For Saving My Life Coach,” Iverson tweeted. “I’m going to miss you, but I’m sure that you are looking down on us with a big smile.”
Iverson was arrested during his senior year of high school and all potential offers for college basketball had been revoked, except his offer from Georgetown. Thompson offered him a scholarship, and Iverson was later named Big East Rookie of the Year in 1995.
Villanova head coach, Jay Wright, paid homage to the coaching legend tweeting immediately after the news of Thompson’s death broke and also making a further statement.
“Coach Thompson was an icon of the Big East,” Wright commented. “I admired him as much as any coach, but I respected him more than anyone. His commitment to his players and their academic growth is something that inspired me as a young coach. What I respected most about Coach Thompson was his authenticity.”
“Coach Thompson was a great man” Wright continued. “Our game and college athletics has lost a wonderful, impactful leader whom we will all miss.”
Big East basketball has been forever changed by the legacy John Thompson Jr. left on the conference. His advocacy for minority students and coaches continues into the future of college basketball.