Legendary Georgetown Coach John Thompson Jr. Dies at 78

John Thompson Jr.

The basketball world has lost another iconic figure.

Legendary Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. died at his Arlington, Virginia home on Sunday night. He was 78. Thompson was the first black coach to win an NCAA championship in 1984.

Legendary Coach John Thompson Jr. dies at age 78

Remembering John Thompson’s Career

He was known as “Big John” throughout college basketball. However, before becoming a Hall of Fame coach, he was just a high school kid like anyone else. The legendary coach began his basketball journey at Archbishop Carroll High School before leading Providence College to the 1963 NIT Championship. He served as captain for the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance the following year.

In 1964, the Boston Celtics drafted Thompson in the third round and backed up Hall of Fame center Bill Russell. Despite limited minutes, Thompson did win championships with the Celtics in 1965 and 1966.

Coaching Journey 

Thompson’s NBA career ended after two seasons and while the Chicago Bulls offered him a spot, he declined to become head coach of the prestigious St. Anthony Catholic School in Washington in 1966. During his six-year prep coaching stint, he went 122-28 before becoming Georgetown’s head coach in 1972.

Georgetown simply aimed for an NIT appearance here and there. Thompson exceeded those expectations. In 1975, he led the Hoyas to the NCAA tournament, their first appearance in 32 years.

After turning a 3-23 team into an NCAA championship contender, the rest is history.

The Soul of Georgetown Basketball

Winning symbolized Thompson’s coaching career, which started with Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, who dominated college basketball in all four years. Under Ewing and Thompson, the Hoyas reached the Final Four three times in 1982, 1984 (Georgetown’s only championship in basketball history) and 1985. He also helped lead the United States National Team to a bronze medal in the 1988 Olympics.

After Ewing was drafted, Thompson never reached the Final Four again, but still made 24 consecutive postseason appearances (19 NCAA, five National Invitation Tournaments) and seven Big East tournaments championships.

His final year of coaching was the 1998-1999 season, when he finished with a 596-239 record in his career. He also won national coach of the year and Big East coach of the year three times each.

Coach John Thompson Jr.’s Legacy

Thompson was more than just a basketball coach. His impact went beyond the court. Out of 77 players who stayed at Georgetown all four years, 75 earned college degrees and 26 players were drafted in the NBA. He developed four Hall of Famers including: Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson.

He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999 and is credited with opening the door for future minority coaches. Thompson’s 1984 championship victory made him the first black coach to win an NCAA championship. He guided many players to men on and off the court, including Iverson, who spent four months in jail for his alleged role in a bowling alley fight during his senior year of high school.

“Thanks For Saving My Life Coach,” Allen wrote in tribute to Thompson on social media.

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