The legendary Georgetown Hoyas head coach John Thompson will always be remembered for his work with some of the fiercest big man ever – Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutombo. He also introduced the groundbreaking guard Allen Iverson to the world in the mid-1990s and coached the 1988 US Olympic team, which won the silver medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
The most memorable coaching achievement by Thompson came back in 1984 when he coached the mighty Georgetown Hoyas. That year his outstanding team, powered by the inside play of center Patrick Ewing, won their only NCAA championship title ever.
The inside presence of Ewing not only transformed the Hoyas performance and chances but also boosted the overall image of the Big East Conference. Over Ewing’s four year tenure at Georgetown, the team missed making the NCAA championship only once (1983), compiling an impressive 121-23 overall W-L record!
Ewing proved his world-class in the semifinal clash with the mighty Kentucky Wildcats ‘twin towers’ combination – Sam Bowie and Mel Turpin. Then, in the final game, the eventual tournament MVP took on a 6’10” Nigerian center Hakeem Olajuwon, who once dreamed of becoming a soccer goalie. This time around, the Cougars did not have Clyde Drexler, who went to the NBA in 1983.
It was Coach Thompson’s presence and persistence along the sideline, which led the Hoyas to win by controlling the boards (30-26) and being more efficient from the free-throw line (72.7% vs. 59.1%). Those numbers just highlighted their inspired play on both ends, their fierce defense and unselfish offense.
“They play team ball, the way it’s supposed to be played. We play selfish. I was open, and my teammates said they missed me. But how many times can they miss me?”Hakeem Olajuwon, Sports Illustrated
Bering in mind the great rivalry Ewing and Olajuwon would soon develop in the NBA, the 1984 NCAA championship game remains one of the rare, vital games in which Ewing’s team managed to prevail Olajuwon’s. The Hoyas won the game by 84-75, thus winning their first national championship ever! Five players from that Georgetown team went on to play in the NBA – center Patrick Ewing; forwards Bill Martin and Reggie Williams; guards Michael Jackson and David Wingate.
The rivalry between the two superstar centers peaked ten years later in the memorable 1994 NBA final between the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets. The Rockets, led by Olajuwon, edged the Knicks by 4-3, thus leaving Ewing as one of the rare 1990s NBA superstars who didn’t win a championship title.
As for Thompson, over his 27-year-long collegian coaching career with the Georgetown Hoyas, he compiled a remarkable 596-239 (71.4%). Three-time Big East Coach of the Year coached as many as 25 future NBA players, included famous names like Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, and Erick Sleepy Floyd.