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At Georgetown, athletic center named after Big John Thompson is open for business

The 144,000-square-foot John Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletic Center houses the new practice court for men’s basketball. (Gene Wang/The Washington Post)

The Georgetown men’s basketball team has been able to attract some of the most coveted high school recruits in the country over the past several decades despite dated on-campus facilities.

With the nearly complete John Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletic Center up and running, Hoyas Coach John Thompson III now has a state-of-the-art building as his newest enticement in his efforts to land blue-chippers.

The official gala opening is scheduled for Oct. 6. Athletes, however, are already using portions of the building as workers continue to put the finishing touches on the 144,000-square-foot structure, named for the iconic former coach who led the Hoyas to three Final Fours in four years, including the 1984 national championship.

“Our facilities have been used against us, and now they’ll be used for us,” Thompson III said Thursday while giving a tour. “I don’t think there’s a place in the country as nice as this. Today’s kids, they want all the bells and whistles, and this has a lot of that.”

At a cost of roughly $62 million, the athletic center includes separate practice courts for the men’s and women’s basketball teams. The men’s team will continue to play home games at Verizon Center and the women at McDonough Arena, which is connected to the Thompson Center.

Men’s basketball occupies the top two floors in the five-level building, with the gym taking up approximately 15,000 square feet. Thompson III’s office is relatively modest in size but has a view of much of the campus, including the adjacent football field.

Hanging on one wall is a row of professional jerseys from each former Georgetown player who has made it to the NBA. Another wall features odes to the program’s many NCAA tournament accomplishments, most notably the ’84 title.

There is a balcony overlooking the court from which pro scouts can view practices, as well as bleachers behind one of the baskets. On the other end is a huge window that, with the help of a mobile app, can be turned into a giant image of a bulldog to shield the court from sun glare.

“At the end of the day, this facility was needed,” Thompson III said. “This facility was done first-class where unless there’s something we haven’t thought of, I think everything is here.”

That includes 97 flat-screen televisions and a gaming wall in the athletes’ lounge. The men’s basketball team has its own set of flat-screens in its locker room, which even comes with high sinks and shower heads to accommodate taller athletes.

But the building is hardly for the exclusive benefit of men’s basketball. Brian McGuire, the associate athletic director for facilities and operations, estimated that all of the school’s other teams occupy 50 percent of the space. Among the facilities all athletes share are sports-medicine and weight-training rooms, an academic center and a spacious equipment area.

Near the main entrance will be a bronze statue of Thompson Jr. and interactive photo walls chronicling the history of Georgetown athletics. There are also several quotes from Thompson Jr. displayed prominently throughout, including one particularly famous line during an on-campus celebration for the national championship team:

“When I’m gone,” it reads, “if I can’t go to Heaven, take me back to Georgetown.”

Many former Georgetown basketball players donated generously toward the construction of the building. Patrick Ewing, for instance, contributed $3.3 million in a joint donation with longtime sports agent David Falk; Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green each gave $1 million.

Thompson Jr. toured the center last week and, according to his son and the current coach, was thrilled with the building that bears his name.

“Proud, happy, glad that it’s named after Pops,” Thompson III said. “I think if anything, that makes you emotional. It makes him emotional knowing that and appreciating that and seeing the great representation that you see as you walk through the building. It was important to us to recognize as much as we could the history of every sport and also men’s basketball.”