Georgetown Coach John Thompson, who has won one national championship and taken his teams to the NCAA title game two other times, yesterday was selected to be head coach of the 1988 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team.
As expected, 15 voters who composed the selection committee met in Colorado Springs yesterday and made Thompson the coach for the Games in Seoul. Thompson, 44, the first black coach named to the position, will succeed Indiana's Bob Knight, whose 1984 team won the gold medal in Los Angeles.
"I don't win many popularity contests with some of the positions and stands that I take," Thompson said last night. "And that's one of the many reasons I'm very flattered that so many people said I should be the next Olympic coach. It's such a great honor. The judgment and respect that others have for you is very flattering."
The selection ended hours of nervous waiting for Thompson, who reportedly had been the leading candidate. "But sometimes that's the kiss of death," he said. "It made me very nervous."
When asked where this ranked among his personal achievements, Thompson said: "Extremely high. I usually think it's odious in comparing honors. But to have the opportunity to coach the Olympic team, to represent one's country in this way, is very exciting, a high, high honor.
"My goal is to work as hard as I can and bring back the gold."
Thompson recalled the opening ceremonies of the 1976 Olympics when, as an assistant to head coach Dean Smith, he walked onto the track inside Montreal's Olympic Stadium. "We had heard and we had talked about how we, as Americans, would feel when they played the national anthem," Thompson said. "But when we actually stepped onto that track . . . well, it's a feeling I can't describe."
On the subject of being the first black to reach milestones, Thompson has often said in the past, "There are no more Jackie Robinsons. If I'm the first, it means there were a lot of people before me who were denied the opportunity."
Thompson has been working with international basketball for years and was a member of the player selection committee in 1984. In his 14 years at Georgetown, his teams have won 321 games and lost 115. They won the NCAA title in 1984 and have made eight consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament.
The selection committee chose Thompson over several other finalists, which apparently included Larry Brown of Kansas and Denny Crum of Louisville.
Thompson said he admired the work of Smith and Knight -- each of whom took his Olympic team to a gold-medal victory -- because the challenge of selecting the players and coordinating the team in such a short time is extremely difficult.
"I've watched not only that, but the strain on those men in having to deal with the Olympics and going into your own season. . . . But it's something I've really wanted to do."
Among the current or soon-to-be college players who could be available to Thompson when the Olympic trials begin in the spring of 1988 are 7-foot center David Robinson of the Naval Academy, Danny Manning of Kansas, Pervis Ellison of Louisville, Charles Shackleford of North Carolina State, Danny Ferry of Duke, Tom Hammonds of Georgia Tech, Jeff Lebo of North Carolina, David Rivers of Notre Dame, Gary Grant of Michigan, Rick Calloway of Indiana, Frankie Ford of Auburn, Pooh Richardson of UCLA, Tony Kimbro of Louisville, J.R. Reid of North Carolina and Terry Mills of Michigan.
Thompson called the entire Olympic process "extremely challenging" and added he hoped not too many of the aforementioned players would leave school early to turn professional.
His appointment is subject to confirmation by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Amateur Basketball Association of the United States, but is virtually assured. Dave Gavitt, chairman of the USOC's basketball selection committee and Big East Commissioner, said the panel voted unanimously for Thompson.