It is now almost six seasons, two NCAA basketball tournament appearances and 100 victories later. And those same detractors who say Georgetown's John Thompson couldn't coach then are still at it now. "Don't get me started," one of them said yesterday. "Let's go on to something else."
It is something that Thompson has come to accept, although, for all the envious don't-use-my-name critics, a coach like North Carolina's Dean Smith said yesterday, "When you talk about a coach, you have to talk about the man, in all areas. And he can do it all."
Thompson starts toward his second 100 victories tonight, against Manhattan in the opener of a Madison Square Garden doubleheader that ends with Notre Dame facing Fordham.
Also tonight, Maryland plays at Pitt. Albert King, who sat out most of last weekend's game against Clemson with back stasms, did not practice with the team yesterday. He will be available for emergency duty against Pitt, according to a team spokesman. Bill Bryant will start in King's place at small forward.
Thompson was asked yesterday for a self-evaluation on his maturity as an Xs and Os man.
In a nonanswer to that question, Thompson draws a revealing picture on the feelings of a black coach.
The bottom line, said Thompson, is acceptability.
"When I became a coach," he said, "I made a note in my mind; the difference between wanting to be successful and wanting to be accepted."
The second, Thompson quickly discovered, did not follow the first.
"I'm not bitter about it," Thompson said. "It's conditioning - something you accept, ignore and go around.
"I set my own standards. If I didn't, I never would have survived in this business. I don't evaluate myself by the standards of others. Show me one black coach who's in the Hall of Fame . . . Standards change so conveniently to people."
Ironically, Thompson is starting to get more credit as a coach in the two season since he was Smith's assistant on the U.S. Olympic team - after the two NCAA appearance. And he thinks it's not because of any different ability as a coach now, but because it's acceptable to lear it from Smith.
Thompson and Smith are a mutual-admiration society. And Thompson says flat out that Smith is the best college coach in America. But Thompson finds the Olympic example a prime example to prove his point.
"Nobody thinks about the fact that I'm 36 years old and most of my experience has been in a black setting with coaches like John McLendon, Dave Brown and Frank Bolden," Thompson said.
"Nobody gives them credit. Then Dean and I spend one summer together and . . ."
In a way, Thompson finds the controversy over his coaching ability a stimulus to box-office success because he believes that the student-athlete should be replaced by the student-entertainer and that the coach is an entertainer, too.
"The fun of being a fan is evaluating who's the best coach, or the best shooters, et cetera," Thompson said. "People come to find out."
The usual knock on Thompson as a coach is that he recruits oodles of talent and that anyone could coach the Hoyas as well.
"I don't mean to knock his players," said Smith, "but everybody thinks he has far better talent than he has."
"When I become a 'good' coach," Thompson said, "I say jokingly I'll be a dangerous person. If I can do what I've done with what little knowledge I have, I'll be dangerous when I learn. One should hope I never learn."