Seated on the top row of the bleachers in Gonzaga High School's tiny gymnasium, John Thompson and Dean Smith, two of the nation's most respected college basketball coaches and the best of friends, talked a little and laughed a little at a recent Gonzaga-De Matha game.

Among their topics of conversation was Thompson's son, John III, a versatile 6-foot-3 junior, who was leading Gonzaga to an upset over then-No. 1-ranked De Matha.

"Oh, we discussed John some," said Thompson, "but nothing I want to talk about. I was feeling kind of low and I got a greal deal of satisfaction out of watching him play. That made my day."

Because of the demands of coaching a major college team such as Georgetown, Thompson rarely sees his son play. If he saw more games, he probably would be even more pleased.

Although the younger Thompson does not possess exceptional quickness or jumping ability, he leads Gonzaga in scoring with an 18-point average and is second in rebounding (seven) and assists (five). In the victory over De Matha, he scored a dozen points, had seven rebounds and his excellent passing led to six baskets in the fourth quarter and the victory.

"Passing is one of John's strengths," said Gonzaga Coach Dick Myers. "He has such amazing court presence and a knowledge of the game. He has a lot of self-confidence and wears that father-son label very well. He's very mature."

So much so that he isn't intimidated by the presence of his father and the North Carolina coach at a game.

"I knew they were there and, sure, you want to perform well anytime you're being watched by anyone," Thompson said. "I just tried to play my best and do the same things I do all the time. Neither said anything to me and left early. All I was interested in was winning the game. Right then, that was important to me."

It is also important for the 16-year-old Thompson to be accepted by his peers for what he is, not for what he might be.

"Some people tell me my father was a great player and feel I should be better than I am," the younger Thompson said. "I never saw my father play. I don't know how good he was. I saw a clip once of him in college and I can't even remember what he did. I saw enough to believe he was a good player.

"I don't feel any pressure being his son. He certainly doesn't put any on me. He gives me tips on things, both the good and the bad. He stresses hard work and is demanding but that's not just for basketball. He told me if I was going to be a wood carver, be the best.

"When I first starting playing, he said if I was going to play basketball, do the best I can or don't do it."

Led by Thompson's much improved play, Gonzaga has won 22 of 27 games and finished third in the Metro Conference. The Purple Eagles can add a few more victories this weekend in the Beltway Classic Tournament at H.D. Woodson. Gonzaga plays a first-round game against H.D. Woodson Friday at 4:45.

As the younger Thompson has developed, his coach has naturally wondered if he will grow to his father's 6-11, 300-pound size.

"I don't think Mother Nature intends for me to be that tall," said Thompson. "Besides, I like the swing position. I like playing guard and handling the ball and I love to shoot."

Myers is hoping the big growth spurt is coming.

"Sure, it would have been nice if John was 6-8 but he isn't," said Myers. "But he's improved a great deal and is a very smart player. He has no wasted movement out there and always finds the ball.

"He knows what he's doing and never rattles. Being a celebrity here wears off fast. John is no celebrity and doesn't act like one."

Reflecting his father's philosophy, Thompson said his interests go beyond the basketball court. "The NBA isn't a dream for me. I'm not sure what I want to do but I think TV broadcasting or being a newscaster would be interesting. I haven't really sat down and decided what's best for me." The elder Thompson wants his son to make decisions and, for that reason, was hesitant to help him select a high school three years ago.

"I didn't want him to feel any added pressure. That's why I felt it best to leave him alone for a while," said Thompson, who has two other children, Ronald, 13, and Tiffany, 7. "I think Dick has done a great job with him and John seems to be enjoying himself. He doesn't overemphasize the game. He's a smarter player than I was."

Thompson, who attends all of the Georgetown home games, said he would have no trouble playing for his father.

"I wouldn't go or not go there just because the coach was my father," Thompson said. "I'd go because I felt it was the best school for me. Right now, I haven't even begun to think about that."

And what is it like around the house after a Hoya defeat?

"People asked me if my father came home and kicked the dog after the loss to North Carolina in New Orleans last year," Thompson said. "He didn't.

"But one day, we came home and the dog had run away."