First Person Singular: John Thompson III, 45, Arlington, Georgetown University men’s basketball coach


Georgetown head basketball coach John Thompson III. (Jonathan Newton/WASHINGTON POST)
March 1, 2012

To say that basketball was a big part of [my] growing up is stating the obvious. Because of what Pops [former Georgetown coach John Thompson] did, I’ve been around the game literally my entire life. And my brother and I played, so it’s a big part of who we are. But I never aspired to be a coach. To tell you the truth, I never thought about it. I went to school planning on becoming a lawyer. It wasn’t until Coach [Pete] Carril called me with a chance to go back and work with him at Princeton that I seriously gave it thought.

I’d been working for a sports marketing company, thinking that would kind of satisfy the itch to be around athletics, but I missed the highs and lows that come along with competition. So it was a pretty quick conversation.

So much of your job at this level is trying to help the young men learn and grow up where four years from now they’re ready to survive on their own. I mean, I go back to my own freshman year and maybe even my sophomore year — and I’ve told Coach this — I hated him. Coach Carril was extremely demanding and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. I was fortunate, though, that when I called home complaining, I had a father on the other end who said, “That man knows what he’s talking about; you need to grow up.” Click. Once I started maturing, I started realizing: Most of the things Coach is telling me, he is right about. I started listening to what he was saying, not just how he was saying it. And I have to say that I quickly went from hating him to loving him.

That whole process of taking players — and coaches, trainers and managers — and getting us to one cohesive unit, where we’re thinking on the same level, caring on the same level and our dedication to each other is on the same level — that’s one of the fun parts of the job. Figuring out how to form a bond, a oneness, that’s necessary to win. And whether that means setting a good screen so someone else can get a shot, or getting up and going to breakfast so your body doesn’t wear down, you do things for the whole because that’s your responsibility to the team. Whether you have five new faces like we do this year or one new face, the chemistry of the group is different. Everything is not always going to be harmonious, but you just figure it out and you make it work.

I think a lot of that approach rubs off. There’s an understanding of: Let’s get it right this possession, let’s focus on what’s in front of us and be “in the now,” as opposed to always trying to step back and assess the big picture. Because if you take care of the day to day, if you take care of the game to game, then the big picture will take care of itself.

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