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John Thompson III: Georgetown will have new facility in ‘very near future’

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Georgetown’s long awaited on-campus athletic facility has taken a significant step forward in the planning process, men’s basketball coach John Thompson III said, with only a final fund-raising push standing in the way of groundbreaking.

“I’m 100 percent certain it will happen in the very near future,” Thompson said during an interview Friday. “A lot has changed. All the community, zoning and town issues and hurdles — we are past those. So now it’s just a question of getting the money and putting the shovel in the ground.”

The 130,000-square-foot building will be constructed on the site of existing tennis courts next to McDonough Arena, which was built in 1951, when Georgetown fielded just nine athletic teams for 250 athletes (all men).

Today, roughly 750 Georgetown male and female athletes compete in 29 sports. And outdated McDonough, which has just one basketball court and six locker rooms, accommodates all.

The new facility, estimated to cost $60 million, is designed to alleviate that congestion and keep Hoyas basketball competitive with its Big East rivals, providing new practice courts, locker rooms and meeting rooms for the men’s and women’s basketball teams. It will also house a weight room, academic center, training room and locker rooms for all athletes.

“It will help the whole athletic department,” Thompson said. “It’s something that’s needed. The Georgetown community knows it’s needed, and it’s on the way.”

Whenever construction starts, it will do so amid a wildly shifting landscape in college athletics, particularly in the Big East, which has seen its ranks raided in recent years. Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College left for the ACC in 2004 and 2005. West Virginia left for the Big 12 this season. And Syracuse and Pittsburgh will be ACC-bound next season, with Notre Dame to follow in all sports except football, in which it competes as an independent.

Thompson concedes the Big East’s basketball profile has been affected.

“We have gone from unquestionably the best basketball conference in the country to now we’re just arguably the best basketball conference in the county,” he said.

Thompson insists reports of the Big East’s demise are grossly exaggerated.

He cites the addition of Memphis, Houston and Southern Methodist — and the recruiting markets they bring — as an upside of this latest round of conference-jumping. And if Thompson is sure of one thing, it’s that this round won’t be the last.

“Intercollegiate athletics is going through an evolution,” Thompson said. “We’re in the midst of it. It’s not close to being over. And so I don’t know what the intercollegiate landscape is going to look like two, three, four years down the road. I don’t know what the Big East is going to look like two, three, four years down the road.”

And though Georgetown has a strong voice in Big East affairs as a founding member of what was conceived as a basketball conference, the schools that play big-time college football carry more weight and are generally calling the shots.

“We don’t have big-time, major football [at Georgetown], and this is driven by the dollars that football brings to the table,” Thompson said. “So there are many tables and discussions that we’re not going to be a part of.”

Still, he takes issue with the perception that Big East basketball has taken a major step backward.

“We have lost what have been traditionally key members,” Thompson said. “But the Big East still has New York, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas and Houston. We’re going through change. We’re going to look different tomorrow than we did yesterday. But there’s no need to cry for us.”

Asked if he felt Georgetown’s interests would be better served in a basketball-driven conference, Thompson said: “Right now, I don’t agree with that. We’re going through an evolution. So down the road, might I feel that way? It’s possible. But right now I don’t feel that way.”

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