If there were any questions about the will of Patrick Ewing or his Big East champion Georgetown Hoyas, one needed look no further than the Big Fella’s mentor, the late John Thompson Jr., the original “Hoya Destroya.”
“I [will not] say what Coach Thompson would say right now,” Ewing remarked after Georgetown’s 73-48 demolition of Creighton at Madison Square Garden Sunday to win the Big East title and an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
“The fact that people discounted us … even last night I’m watching TV, they’re saying Seton Hall is just gonna wipe us, push us to the floor, and get to the next game,” Ewing continued. “We showed that we have courage, we have fight, we have the Georgetown fight — Hoya Saxa — that means something.”
The victory came on the anniversary of Thompson’s hiring 49 years earlier.
Thompson, who died in August, led Georgetown to five Big East titles in the 1980s.
Ewing, now the Hoyas’ head coach, manned center for three of those titles, including the 1983-84 NCAA championship.
Born on Sept. 2, 1941, in the District, Thompson played center at Archbishop Carroll High School in Northeast.
He went on to star at Providence College, leading the school to the 1963 National Invitation Tournament title and its first NCAA tournament appearance.
Thompson earned a degree in economics at Providence and then a master’s degree in guidance and counseling at the University of the District of Columbia.
The Boston Celtics selected Thompson in the 1964 NBA draft, but the 6-foot-10-inch star retired after playing just two pro seasons behind the great Bill Russell.
He coached at St. Anthony’s High School in Northeast and led the team to a 122-28 record before Georgetown called in 1972.
Thompson not only became the first African American coach to win an NCAA title, but he also led the Hoyas to 24 consecutive post-season appearances and an overall 596-239 record.
His players graduated at a 97 percent rate, and 26 made it to the NBA.
Thompson earned Coach of the Year honors seven times and was the catalyst behind the legendary NBA careers of Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson.
The coach, who preached defense, was a strong advocate of education and social justice — notably, he pushed for more opportunities for students of color.
When the NCAA announced it would not allow scholarships to incoming freshmen who failed to meet specific requirements, Thompson protested. He walked off the court in a January 1989 game and refused to coach the next contest because he said the rule was biased against students of color.
The NCAA changed course and quickly removed the rule.
Thompson was 78 when he died in August.
“He changed the world and helped shape the way we see it. He was a great coach but an even better person, and his legacy is everlasting,” Ewing said recently.
Added Mutombo: “He was my mentor, great teacher, hero, and a father figure to so many of us who got the chance to play for him. I learned a lot about the game of basketball, but most importantly, I learned how to be a man in society.”