Robert Novak, a colleague and good friend, has two contemporary heroes: Whittaker Chambers and Lefty Driesell. When he's not trashing liberals in his syndicated column and many television appearances, Novak is an enthusiastic member of the University of Maryland's Terrapin Club, the athletic boosters. Indeed, Novak even has traveled with the Maryland basketball team, presenting a perfect contrast with the tall, slim, graceful and athletic players.
Thus, what a surprise to discover in last Sunday's Post Book Review that the reviewer of a book on Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson -- Lefty Driesell's and Maryland's nemesis -- was none other than the Terrapin Club's own Bobby Novak. Not surprisingly, he uses Len Shapiro's superb book -- "Big Man on Campus" -- as a convenient vehicle to mount an ad hominem attack on John Thompson.
This suggests an interesting precedent for book reviews. John Sununu's much-awaited autobiography could be reviewed by Bob Dole. The Marla Maples story could fall under the balanced eyes of Ivana Trump. Or how about the Ben Bradlee years analyzed by Richard Nixon?
It's not clear what kind of jump shot Whittaker Chambers had, but a comparison of Novak's other idol, Lefty Driesell, with the target of his book review, John Thompson, is instructive.
When Driesell arrived in College Park in 1969, he bragged that he'd make the Terrapins the UCLA of the East, and Terrapin Club members rejoiced with visions of conference championships and national titles. When John Thompson arrived at Georgetown three years later, the only goal was to field a team that no longer was an embarrassment.
In a spirit foreign to Bob Novak, Driesell deserves praise for his 17-year stint: He brought big-time college basketball to this area. He won an Atlantic Coast Conference championship, took his team to seven NCAA tournaments and once made the regional finals.
But it has been John Thompson who has achieved those UCLA-type heights that eluded Driesell: In 18 years, he has won six Big East conference championships and made 14 trips to the NCAA tournament and six regional finals, and three treks to the Final Four, one of which resulted in a national championship. Many of the nation's premier basketball coaches -- St. John's Lou Carnesecca, Villanova's Rollie Massimino, Arizona's Lute Olson -- envy the Thompson record.
But Novak's real chutzpah was in casting aspersions on the academic and social behavior of Georgetown's basketball players during the Thompson years. While far from perfect, the Thompson program never has been penalized by the NCAA, apparently graduates more than 95 percent of players who stay for four years, and numbers lawyers, stockbrokers, businessmen and ministers among alums. The Georgetown coach has given opportunities to inner-city kids that have extended well beyond the court.
To be sure, there are larger-than-life flaws in John Thompson as captured in the Shapiro book. He never should have recruited John Turner who, during his short stay at Georgetown, associated with drug kingpin Rayful Edmunds. And Thompson's petty feud with his old high school coach -- Bob Dwyer, who helped get his former player his first coaching job -- is sad and senseless.
But these shortcomings are mitigated by the extraordinary contributions Thompson has made to college basketball and to this community. As Shapiro notes, he's an incredibly complex and fascinating man.
But it's no surprise Novak missed this. Another coach who had the temerity to consistently beat Driesell and the Terrapins was Dean Smith of North Carolina. When Smith coached the 1976 U.S. Olympic team, Novak -- that ferocious cold warrior, foe of communists real and imagined, idolater of Whittaker Chambers -- cheered for the Soviets.
Albert R. Hunt is Washington bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal and a colleague of Robert Novak's on CNN's "Capital Gang." He also is an avid fan of the Georgetown Hoyas.