Friday, March 24, 2017

Thoughts About JT3 On A Lax Game Day

TigerBlog was going to start out today with some memories of the 1991 Princeton-Yale men's lacrosse game.

Though the 1990 season was his first covering the team, he didn't go to any of the league road games. The first one he went to was when Princeton played at Yale in the 1991 season.

One of his biggest memories of that game, which was played on April 6, was that it had to have been 80 degrees. It was really hot that day.

He tried to find the temperature, first in the box score or postgame release - it wasn't there - and then by doing a search for things like "temperature in New Haven, Conn., on April 6, 1991." Yeah, he got nowhere with that either.

Then he got distracted by the news that John Thompson III was out as Georgetown men's basketball coach.

John spent the last 13 years as the coach of the Hoyas. The high-water mark was when he took the team to the Final Four in 2007,  but his resume also includes 11 postseason trips, including eight to the NCAA tournament, and three Big East regular-season championships.

Before he became the coach at Georgetown, he was the head coach at Princeton. He took over the program in September 2000 when Bill Carmody left for Northwestern, which left him with very little time to prepare for the coming season.

Despite that, and despite the loss of what he might have thought would be his starting five that year - including when Chris Young signed a baseball contract - Thompson led Princeton to the 2000-01 Ivy League title and NCAA tournament. He would win three Ivy titles in four years, and he would have an NIT appearance and then another NCAA trip in 2004, his last with the program.

His last two years at Georgetown saw the Hoyas have losing records and not make the postseason. He chose a tough profession in a tough league, the Big East, where long-term accomplishments fade into the "what-have-you-done-lately" way of looking at things.

 TigerBlog supposes he gets that piece of it.

Maybe John Thompson didn't match the success of the mid-2000s in recent years, though he did win the Big East title as recently as 2013. And the Hoyas didn't go deep in the NCAAs.

At the same time, he has won around two-thirds of his games as a head coach, at Princeton and at Georgetown. In fact, his career record stands at 346-193.

TigerBlog sat a table with John Thompson in an Outback Steakhouse in Muncie, Ind., after the first of all of those wins. It was on Dec. 1, 2000, when Princeton defeated Weber State 65-60 in overtime in the first round of a tournament at Ball State. Princeton had four players in double figures that night - Kyle Wente, C.J. Chapman, Mike Bechtold and Ed Persia.

Of all the teams that TB has been around during his time at Princeton, the 2000-01 men's basketball team is way up there among his favorites. It's largely because it was front-row seat to watch John Thompson in his first go-round as a head coach, with a team that wasn't expected to do much and yet won an Ivy championship.

And, before that, the championship at the First Merchants Classic, beating the home team 49-47 in the final. Nate Walton had 15 in the championship game.

TigerBlog, for some reason, remembers a lot about that trip to Muncie. His most vivid memory, though, is sitting at that Outback Steakhouse, after that first win, on that very cold Indiana Friday night.

John Thompson ordered a steak, one that came with a salad. He told the waitress he didn't want the salad, even though it came with his meal, and she said she'd bring it anyway and maybe someone else would eat it. TigerBlog did.

The salad aside, what TB remembers most about that night was the way Thompson carried himself. It was like he'd been a head coach for 20 years already, not three games. He wasn't really all that excited that they'd won. He was happy, of course, but the focus was really on the next game, who played well, what need to improve, other college basketball games, what was going on in the rest of the world.

He was already a veteran. He was, TB supposes, born into it and trained for it, with his Hall-of-Fame father (John Thompson) and Hall-of-Fame coach (Pete Carril).

That moment in the restaurant always stuck with TigerBlog when he saw Thompson coach, the rest of his time at Princeton and then at Georgetown. His record in close games was very good, and TB always chalked that up to the demeanor that he showed in the Outback Steakhouse that night.

If you don't know John Thompson III, he's about as high-quality a human being as TB has ever met. What words leap to mind to describe him? Genuine. Loyal. Smart. Dynamic. Deep.

He and his wife Monica have been leaders in the Washington, D.C., community for years with their foundation.  Who knows how many people they've helped?

TigerBlog is interested to see what John does next. TB has always thought he'd make a great NCAA president - or possibly U.S. President. At least Governor Thompson or Senator Thompson.

If he wants to coach again, he will. He'd be great on TV. He'd be a great administrator somewhere.

Anyway, the men's lacrosse team plays Yale today at 2. You can see the game on ESPNU if you can't get out to Sherrerd Field.

It won't be 80 degrees, but it is a very intriguing matchup, the rising Tigers against the preseason favorite Bulldogs. And throw in that the last three meetings between the teams have all been 11-10 scores and the last seven regular-season meetings have all been one-goal games.

TigerBlog was going to spend the whole day today talking about that game, but then he changed his mind. He wanted to talk about John Thompson instead.

When the news from Georgetown came out, TigerBlog heard from a lot of people, especially people who worked at Princeton when Thompson was there. They agree with what TB thinks.

You don't meet many people in your life who impress you the way John Thompson does.

1 comment:

George Clark said...

I have always believed that the job JT3 did in his very first year stands out among the best coaching seasons in Tiger history. Winning the title with a team built around Nate Walton, the classic "can't run, can't shoot, all he does is win" guy, surely has a
favored place in Tiger lore. Your profile is typically well done, TB. Thanks.