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Season Preview: CHD sits down with Georgetown coach John Thompson III

Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Georgetown coach John Thompson III about having a pair of Hall of Fame coach and a Hall of Fame father. 

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The Big East got a huge overhaul last summer with the departure of some legendary programs (Louisville and Syracuse) and the arrival of some young up-and-comers (Butler and Creighton).  What impact has this had on your preseason preparation (if any)? None at all. It changed our scheduling a little more: this is by far the most difficult non-conference schedule I have ever had.

Your season opener will be against Oregon in South Korea.  How did the game come about, and what is the hardest part of preparing for such a game? It was brought to us by ESPN and the military, which gave us the privilege to go overseas and play in front of some military members and their families to thank them for all that they do. The Ducks are an experienced and talented team and the 14-hour trip is a rough way to start the season, but it is worth it.

Otto Porter, Jr. left school early and was drafted third overall by the Wizards.  Are you planning to see him at the Verizon Center later this year, and how will you be able to fill the void left by the departure of the 2013 Big East POY? At some point we will get over there: the beauty of him being drafted by the Wizards is that he can remain part of our program. We are going to need a “natural progression” from everyone to collectively fill the void: we cannot replace Otto with just one guy.

What are your expectations for the upcoming season? As with every season, we want to compete for our conference crown, make it to the NCAA tourney, and then make a run.

Your college coach Pete Carril was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997 and your father John was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.  What kind of influence did each of them have on your own decision to become a coach? Obviously a lot, but growing up I never envisioned becoming a coach, even though being the son of a coach means that it has always been a part of my life. Carril called me up after I had been working in the real world a few years to offer me a job as his assistant, and it only took me a few seconds to say yes.

In the 1996 NCAA tourney as an assistant at Princeton under Coach Pete Carril, freshman Gabe Lewullis scored 10 points including a backdoor layup with 3.9 seconds left in an upset of defending national champion UCLA.  Did you think the play was going to work, and what was the reaction like when you got back to campus? It was one of those strange times as a coaching staff when we all called for the same play in unison. I did not know if it was going work, but we all knew that was the play we wanted to run. It was a very special reception when we got back because it was Carril’s last win before he moved on to the NBA.

In February 1999 as an assistant at Princeton under Coach Bill Carmody, Penn used a 29-0 run to take a 33-9 halftime lead at home, but the Tigers scored 37 of the final 46 points in a one-point win by Princeton.  How were you able to pull off one of the most incredible comebacks in college basketball history? Now that game was weird! Believe it or not, we did not make too many adjustments at halftime: we just started making shots and our pressure got to them. That game has been an inspiration to me. I had a Princeton “Superfan” come up to me one day at a restaurant after I got the Georgetown job, and he took a box score of that game out of his wallet and gave it to me. He told me that he had kept it as a reminder that even when things do not look good, you have to keep working and fighting and good things will happen. That souvenir is sitting in a frame on the mantle in my office as we speak.

In January 2006 as head coach at Georgetown your team shot 61.5% from the field in a three point win over top-ranked Duke (the school’s first win over a top-ranked team since your dad beat St. John’s in the infamous “Sweater Game” in 1985) despite a career-high-tying 41 points from JJ Redick.  At the time you said “Give me a minute or two to digest it and then we can start talking about grandiose things”, so after almost eight years of digestion where does it rank among the most grandiose wins of your career? It was one of the most important wins of my career, if not necessarily grandiose. Our program had been down a bit and we were still getting re-started, so that win put us back into the national spotlight.

In the 2007 NCAA tourney Jeff Green scored 15 points including an off-balance bank shot with 2.5 seconds left in a one point win over Vanderbilt.  Do you think he traveled? He did not travel at all: it was a terrific move by a clutch player.

Green scored 22 points in an eight point overtime win over North Carolina.  How were you able to hold a team with six future NBA draft picks to 35.2 FG%? We were a very good defensive team with a certain game plan that we executed very well. That group was very poised and did not get rattled even when we were trailing. Once we tied it up and got to OT we knew that we would win. That was a very special game because it gave us the opportunity to go all the way to the Final 4.

Last spring you were named Big East Coach of the Year.  What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor? It was an honor to win that because of all the current and future Hall of Fame coaches in the league. It is an individual award, but also a team award because we hung together and dealt with different situations.

JonTeitel