Georgetown University Coach John Thompson, criticized in the local media here for closing his basketball practices and barring interviews with prize recruit Patrick Ewing, answered his critics today, calling the commentary "insensitive and unfair.
"I have been particularly upset to read that Patrick Ewing is in hidng and that John Thompson 'doesn't have the spirit,'" said Thompson, referring to articles in Syracuse newspapers.
"John Thompson believes in the Olympic movement. John Thompson encouraged Patrick Ewing to come here. If Patrick Ewing wanted to be in hiding he would not be here," said Thompson, coach of the Eastern regional men's basketball team at the National Sports Festival, a 33-sport amateur athletic contest sponsored by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Ewing, a 7-foot center at Rindge and Latin High School in Cambridge, Mass., and possibly the top high school player in the nation last year, has been asked several times for interviews since he arrived to play in the festival.
All were denied by Thompson, who also has ordered his practices closed to the press and to the public.
Thursday, the Syracuse Post-Standard ran a story across the top of its sports page under the headline, "Georgetown's Ewing in Hiding." Sports editor Frank Brieaddy declared in a column that Thompson "is doing his darndest to make sure the media gets as little information as possible about NSF basketball to pass on to sports-hungry audiences."
Thompson lacks the Olympic spirit, Brieaddy said, adding, "Whatever his motives are, they are bad for college basketball, bad for the relationship between the media and coaches and bad for the National Sports Festival."
At a press conference today, F. Don Miller, executive director of the USOC, said limiting media access to athletes violates the organization's intentions.
Responding to the articles today, Thompson called in about a dozen reporters to assert that his practices are always closed and that it was Ewing himself who asked that interview requests be denied.
He said he was particularly stung by suggestions that his actions were motivated by Georgetown's basketball rivalry with Syracuse University.
"Before I came here, I made a request -- it was not a demand -- to have closed practices," Thompson said. "The request was granted.
"I have a different sytle of coaching. I'm not trying to be secretive, and I'm not tryi;ng to shelter anybody. I have a tendency to be offensive in coaching but I do not want to offend any of my players in public. I feel my practices should be closed because I have a personal relationship with all my kids."
He said Ewing has told him he does not want to give interviews because he hears undue attention focused on him will create tensions with the other players, and because "he would rather be with the guys."
Thompson did admit he had advised Ewing against giving interviews, and said it is his policy not to allow his freshmen to speak with the press until January of their freshman year.
"His mother sent him to me for some guidance," Thompson said. "I am the director of the (Georgetown basketball) program. We are not running a democracy down there.
"I resent it when you're talking about an 18-year-old kid and you're making snide remarks about 'untimed testing,'" said Thompson, referring to a widely publicized letter sent on Ewing's behalf to a number of college basketball coaches a year ago.
In that letter, a number of special academic considerations were requested for Ewing, including that he be allowed to take tests without time constraints.
"That request was denied at Georgetwon," Thompson said. "There is not untimed testing. It is all a lie."
Thompson also discounted speculation that Earl Jones, the 6-10 center from the University of the District of Columbia, is planning to transfer to Georgetown. Jones is a member of the Eastern regional team, along with two Georgetown recruits, Anthony Jones and William Martin, and Mackin High School's Johnny Dawkins.
(In Washington, UDC Coach wil Jones said, "It's nothing but garbage.
Earl will be playing for us next year, period. I don't know where that stuff starts. Earl is playing on that team because he belongs on that team. John Thompson is a friend of mine. There is nothing ot it.")