Friday, August 19, 2011

Lessons From JT3

By now, you've probably read about and seen the video from the brawl that ended Georgetown's game in China yesterday.

It was an ugly scene, one that apparently had been brewing for much of the game, during which the ultra-physical Chinese players were being called for fouls at about one-quarter the rate as the Hoyas (foul shots were 57-15).

The brawl started with the score tied at 64-64 midway through the fourth quarter (international rules). It looked from all accounts like Georgetown didn't start it or escalate it and simply got to the point where it had to defend itself.

TigerBlog, in the interest of full disclosure, is a huge fan of Hoyas' coach John Thompson, who as everyone knows coached Princeton to three Ivy League championships and two NCAA tournaments in four seasons here. He was also an assistant coach under Pete Carril and Bill Carmody and before that a forward for the Tigers before graduating in 1988.

TB still refers to landing outside the men's basketball office the way Thompson did when he would call TB and ask him to come upstairs, to the "Class of '88 Lounge," which at the time meant sitting on the concrete stairs and which now has two actual chairs.

Thompson has taken Georgetown to one Final Four and has won a bunch of Big East titles, regular-season and tournament. He is clearly one of the best coaches in the country.

There aren't too many higher quality people out there as well.

So, with that disclosure, TB put the blame squarely at the feet of the Chinese team and the officials. In fact, by all indications, Thompson did a miraculous job of getting his team - and entire travel party - off the court, into the lockerroom, on the bus and back to the hotel.

Even with that, though, it was definitely not a moment that Thompson could have wanted to have happen, and he certainly can't be happy with the publicity that it got.

TB saw one story that quoted Mex Carey, the men's basketball contact for Georgetown athletic communications, and he imagined Mex as he possibly tried to be a peacemaker, only to get in the middle of the brawl like Jeff van Gundy did when he coached the Knicks that time against the Heat. Fortunately, Mex and the rest of the Hoyas were able to get off the court and away from danger before anything really tragic happened.

One of TB's first thoughts was about what Georgetown put on its website and how it handled the situation. After all, this was meant to be nothing more than a goodwill trip, an educational look at another country and culture - one that is huge on the world stage today to boot - and an opportunity to get some work in on the court.

And then, all of the sudden, it became international news.

Georgetown put up two statements from Coach Thompson and left it at that, rather than an in-depth recounting of the situation.

In fact, it was something of a no-win situation for the Hoyas. The statements speak for themselves, but it's also easy to dismiss them as the kind of words that everyone offers up after an incident occurs.

At the same time, any attempt to deflect blame away from Georgetown onto the home team would have been disastrous, because it would have 1) looked petty and 2) would have been received harshly in a society that doesn't quite have a reputation for self-deprecation.

In this case, though, the coach's words were perfect.

Thompson's quotes diffuse the entire situation from international flash point between rival cultures to a merely unfortunate outcome of a basketball game.

They don't blame the Chinese, but at the same time, they're not the standard-issue words of apology that get thrown away way too often. In fact, they're not apologetic at all for any of Georgetown's actions, only an expression of regret that it happened in the first place.

There will be those who are critical of Georgtown, because the "Hoya Paranoia" reputation that this John Thompson's father embraced when he was the coach will never fully go away.

Still, anywhere TB looked yesterday, he saw comments that were blaming Georgetown as much as the Chinese.

Today, almost all of the comments are praising Thompson and the Hoyas.

That's a direct result of what Thompson had to say and how he handled everything.

Of course, TB isn't surprised, not with what he's seen from Thompson from his earliest days as a coach at Princeton.

In fact TB's main thought through the whole thing was that Thompson, as good a coach as he is, is in the wrong profession.

Right city, wrong profession.

The highest levels of the U.S. government could use a guy like him.

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