He never landed a prized recruit, never scouted an opponent nor scored a single point for Georgetown.
But for more than three decades, Bill Shapland was a force behind Georgetown basketball, standing just beyond the spotlight but always within earshot of the coaches and players who delivered the Big East titles and NCAA tournament appearances should they need his counsel, or intervention when reporters came calling.
News of Shapland’s death, at age 57, on Friday at Virginia Hospital Center hit the program hard. The Hoyas’ longtime sports information director and a 1977 Georgetown graduate, Shapland had been in failing health the last two years, no longer traveled to road games and ceded home-game responsibilities to his top assistant, while he watched from courtside seats next to former coach John Thompson Jr., his first boss and longtime friend.
In recent years Shapland had been serving primarily as the school’s senior sports communications director.
“Bill really was very special to me because of the time that we spent during tough times, as well as good times,” said Thompson, the Hall of Fame coach, in a telephone interview. “A lot of time he took the blame and responsibility for a lot of things to buffer me. That meant a lot to me. Bill was not just somebody who worked with me; he was my friend, and he protected me.”
Coach John Thompson III, under whom Shapland served these last nine years, offered praise and gratitude, as well.
“You go through life, you go through this job, and you come across unfortunately few people that you know, by their word and actions, unequivocally through good and bad, are going to be there for you — who are going to support you, have your back and throw themselves under the bus if necessary to protect our institution and to protect our program,” Thompson III said.
“Bill, beyond a shadow of a doubt, has been that for as long as I can remember. He has been at the forefront of Georgetown basketball. And we love him for that.”
Though Shapland dedicated his professional life to Georgetown basketball and the father-and-son coaches responsible for its greatest achievement, he indulged other passions. He was an avid reader and a prolific writer of science fiction, completing three novels and multiple short stories, most set 50 years in the future in a world inhabited by dragons and teeming with magic and political unrest.
He was a cagey chess player and wicked impressionist, capable of mimicking the voices of Georgetown’s entire athletics staff. Once, on a dare, he brayed nothing but Irish brogue for an entire workday that included a pregame media session with reporters.
A lover of theater, he was active as an undergraduate in Georgetown’s Mask & Bauble Society, the nation’s longest-running college theater troupe.
But Shapland’s favorite adult role was defender of Georgetown basketball, which explains why John Thompson Jr. called him his “wartime consigliere.”
“Based on how our program was, it was not an easy job that he had,” the elder Thompson said. “I wasn’t the most social person in the world to work with. And he had to deal with that.”
Often, Shapland’s approach to media relations meant circling the wagons rather than spinning a narrative. He could be gruff and intractable, offering no explanation for denying interview requests beyond “That’s how we do things.”
But a kind, caring man lurked just beneath the surface.
“Our rooms were situated across the hallway and I can remember hearing his loud, booming laugh,” recalled Lorry Michel, the Hoyas’ longtime athletic trainer. “You wouldn’t even know what he was laughing about, but it would make me laugh, too. I always felt he was somebody who had my back. He knew I didn’t like to do interviews, so he would filter every request. He would probably laugh right now because I’m doing this interview for him. He was a special person, a compassionate person.”
Born on a military base in Honolulu on July 13, 1955, Shapland enrolled at Georgetown in 1973, earning bachelors and masters degrees in English literature. After serving three years as the athletic department’s equipment manager, he was named sports information director in August 1984, four months after the Hoyas won the NCAA men’s basketball championship.
In the decades that followed, Shapland crafted the Hoyas’ public image and counseled players such as Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Allen Iverson and Roy Hibbert on media relations.
He is survived by his mother, Mildred, of Port St. Lucie, Fla.; sisters Laura, of Phoenix, Md.; and Dorothy, of Denver; and a brother, Edward, of Bethesda. Funeral arrangements are pending.