A Few Minutes With John Thompson

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota --- Even though he doesn't stomp along the Georgetown sidelines anymore with that signature white towel draped over his shoulder, John Thompson is still an imposing figure. Retired from coaching, he will be doing color commentary for Westwood One Radio Friday night when his son, John Thompson III, is the man on the sidelines, leading Georgetown against the Florida Gators in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

This isn't just a typical game for John Thompson. Obviously, there is the Georgetown tie between Thompson and his son, but there is also a long standing relationship with Billy Donovan and his family. Thompson played college basketball at Providence when Billy D's dad played for Providence's biggest rival, Boston College. Billy played collegiate basketball at Providence where he is best remembered for that special 1987 season when he shot the Providence Friars into the Final Four with a brilliant regional championship game against the John Thompson-coached Georgetown Hoyas.

Sitting on the sidelines at the Metrodome Thursday while Georgetown held its shoot-around, Coach Thompson took a few minutes to talk with Gator Country.

FRANZ BEARD: You had the influence of Joe Mullaney, Red Auerbach and Dean Smith and now your son comes along and he's had the Princeton influence as well as the influence you gave him. We also have Billy Donovan at Florida and he's been influenced by coaches like Dave Gavitt and Rick Pitino. How important is pedigree when it comes to coaching at this level? How did it help you, how does it help your son and how does it help Billy?

JOHN THOMPSON: I think it's very important. It's almost like anything else. You have to learn from somebody. What was it that Emerson said? Genius borrows nobly? Very few people actually originate anything in this game. The game is a simple game. It's about execution. It's about kids' receptiveness to learning. A lot of coaches possess knowledge but not many of them can translate that in a way a kid can understand it and then respond to it, but it's extremely important that you are exposed to people who know what your'e talking about so you can pick up stuff. I can go all the way back to Brown Junior High School and Kermit Trigg dragging me around and talking about how Tom Stitt, who was playing for St. Francis High School, was playing the post. I can come all the way up to Red Auerbach and Joe Mullaney and Dean and Dave Gavitt and guys that you listened and paid attention to. I think that's how we all really learn how to coach. You get exposed to certain people and you have to be eager to learn. Regardless of what you learn you have to communicate that in a manner in which people will respond to it.

FB: In your own coaching career, who was actually the most influential in your success as a coach?

JT: My mother and father because they taught me more than anyone else and neither one of them knew anything about basketball. I think the one person most responsible for John's ability to teach never gets the credit and that's his mom. People talk about Pete (Carrill, former Princeton coach) and people talk about me but he has more of his mannerisms and demeanor of his mother. His mother is a teacher at heart. You learn the trade from somebody but the most important thing is to be able to communicate with people or to talk with people in a way that will get them to respond. It's hard for me to say one person but I'd say my mother and father more than anybody else in the way they dealt with me and they taught and said things that they said to me. Those things were very important to me in my dealings with players. I think I used them as reference more than anybody whenever I talked to my players.

FB: What was it that you took from your mother and dad that stuck with you more than anything else that you used in practice, in games and in every day dealings with the young men that you coached?

JT: I think I very seldom fussed at anybody that I didn't think knew I cared about them first. I was emotional, loud, I cursed, I hollered … you can't get out here and deal with today's young people if they're afraid of you. I think because of my size and my loudness people always attribute intimidation but I don't think you can scare today's kids. I think that if a person knows you are concerned and you truly care about them they will permit you to be who you are. If I am to understand who he is, then he has to understand who I am. Based on my parents, I always knew that they loved me. They didn't always let me do what I wanted to do and I tell people that all the time. I was very spoiled in the fact t hat even though we weren't rich I was always loved and cared about. If you are dealing with players and they know you are concerned about them then you can proceed to teach in the manner which you are comfortable. But if you're just doing it for the sake of "your guys" … it's theater. Franz, you've been around this s#%$ long enough to know that a lot of it is theater. I hear some of these guys running around talking about "my family" and it ain't no more family than the man in the moon. So many of these guys are trying to bulls@#&% us about their team being "family." Then you take a guy like Bobby (Knight) who the kids in a lot of instances really like but he's tough but a lot of people interpret that as terrible, terrible, but you go talk to guys like Quinn Buckner and some of those guys and you get a different story. It's hard for you to interpret a relationship that a person has with the people he's teaching. It's so important that those people know you care about them b ecause these kids aren't going to be afraid of you and I think that's something that I got from my parents. Now that's something that I got from my parents because I always knew that they cared about me even if I was angry with them or they were angry with me.

FB: When you see a guy like Billy Donovan, whom you have known since he was a kid even before he was in high school and you coached against him at Providence, then you see your own son coaching … and both of these guys are successful and have come through the ranks, learning from the people that mentored them, and now they're giving it back to a new generation of kids, how does that make you feel?

JT: It makes you feel good because this is what you do and when you've seen those kids come from being kids to players to being involved in the same occupation that you love and you're involved in, there's no question it makes you proud. I've got a few bad memorie s of Billy … making all those shots against me when he was up in Providence and he sent my team home but I respect him for that. You've seen and you know what these guys go through. It's not an easy profession. They have to deal with a lot of things.

FB: Tomorrow night we have Joakim Noah, who grew up idolizing you because you were the coach at Georgetown, playing against your son's team … your former team … that's got to be tough.

JT: That SOB! I used to call him Frenchy! He's my boy and I love him but now I have a generational dislike for him now!

FB: He's going to try to beat Georgetown …

JT: I've been knowing Frenchy since he was this size (holding about three feet off the ground) … what did he say?

FB: He said he died when Craig Eshrick didn't recruit him …

JT: Now I don't know what that's about but when I saw him on television I thought well look at little Frenchy! I'll be danged! He and Patrick's (Ewing) boy … they ran around Georgetown together when they were babies. I've known him since he was a little kid. I admire him. He plays the game hard. He plays the game the way it should be played.

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