Coaching Is a Birthright For Thompson Brothers

John Thompson III, above, didn't have the Georgetown lineage that younger brother Ronny did, but wound up coaching the Hoyas anyway. The brothers' teams meet tomorrow at Verizon Center.
John Thompson III, above, didn't have the Georgetown lineage that younger brother Ronny did, but wound up coaching the Hoyas anyway. The brothers' teams meet tomorrow at Verizon Center. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 26, 2006

When Ronny Thompson was making his head coaching debut Nov. 11, directing Ball State to a victory over Northern Colorado, his father, mother and sister were in the stands at Worthen Arena.

His older brother wanted to be there as well. After all, John Thompson III was there in Muncie, Ind., on the day that Ronny was introduced as the Cardinals' head coach, "just being a proud big brother," he said.

But John III was busy with his own game, coaching the nationally ranked Georgetown Hoyas to a win over Hartford. By the time he walked into his postgame news conference, however, he had received three updates on the Ball State game.

Tomorrow night, it will be a lot easier for the brothers to keep tabs on one another; they'll just have to look at the scoreboard inside Verizon Center. The Hoyas will host Ball State, and the two sons of Hall of Fame Coach John Thompson Jr. will begin a new chapter in a rivalry that began in their back yard.

"Dad didn't want us to play it," Ronny said. "Obviously, we don't always listen to him."

Said John III: "As John Thompson, Ronny's brother and John and Gwen's son, it makes no sense. I don't want to do it. But as the coach of Georgetown, all things considered, it makes sense."

It will be an emotional night, to be sure, and not just because the brothers are facing each other for the first time as head coaches. Ronny, 37, is the one who played at Georgetown. He is the one who coached at Georgetown alongside their father. He is the one who chose two Georgetown players -- Michael Sweetney and Tony Bethel -- to be among the godfathers for his son, Dylan. But 40-year-old John III, the Princeton graduate, is the one currently coaching at Georgetown, and the one who has brought the Hoyas back to national prominence.

"It's a little weird that he's there, because I look at it as that's my school," said Ronny, who even has a black Georgetown warmup shirt hanging on a hook behind the door in his Ball State office. "He went to Princeton! He went down Route 95! I met my wife at Georgetown! It definitely is a little odd at times."

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Ronny may be the one who went to Georgetown, but "we are all Georgetown," says Tiffany Thompson, the youngest of John Jr. and Gwen's three children. Tiffany, 31, says she grew up in McDonough Gymnasium, where John Jr. spent 27 seasons building Georgetown into a national basketball power. She first learned the concept of seconds in a minute by watching the shot clock, she did her homework on the bleachers during games, and she listened as her teenage brothers dissected the strengths and weaknesses of the various Hoyas players.

But John III was the first to leave; he went to Princeton, where he played for and later coached under Pete Carril. Tiffany left as well; she attended Brown. Only Ronny stayed at Georgetown -- though it wasn't entirely his decision.

"I went to Georgetown because my dad was worried I wouldn't graduate," Ronny said with a laugh. "That's the very honest truth. My mom and my dad thought that I was the one that they would have to keep their thumb on to get through school. That's the only reason, because John was a far better player than I was."

But Ronny did graduate, in 1992 with a degree in sociology, and he played in 112 games for the Hoyas over four seasons, averaging 2.5 points. After graduation, Ronny, like his brother, didn't go directly into coaching; he spent a year working on Wall Street. When Ronny decided it was time to change careers and get back into basketball, his father wouldn't make a single phone call on his son's behalf. Said Ronny, "He said, 'If you can't get a job, you can't do the job.' That's just how he was."

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