<
>

Georgetown in a tough spot with John Thompson III

play
Disappointing season raises concerns for Thompson III's future (2:35)

Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser discuss Georgetown's struggles under John Thompson III and whether the school will make a change. (2:35)

The list is neither long nor impressive: Maryland-Baltimore County. Belmont. Eastern Washington.

Those are the trio of notches John Thompson III and the Georgetown Hoyas have on their belt in the past decade when it matters most -- during the NCAA tournament.

"Everyone knows a change needs to be made," one former player said. "But no one will dare stand up and say it."

Not with Big John Thompson, the legendary former coach and the current coach's father, around.

"Everyone is scared to death," another ex-player said.

When John Thompson III took over in 2004, replacing a train wreck of a five-plus year run by Craig Esherick, the Hoyas community rejoiced. Who better than Big John's kid to get the program back to national relevance after five years in which Esherick's teams appeared in the NCAA tournament just once?

It didn't take long, either. There was a Sweet 16 appearance in JT3's second year, and a Final Four appearance in 2007, led by Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert -- two players who had committed to the program before JT3's arrival.

But since that magical run, there just hasn't been much to justify former Hoyas being able to stick their chests out about.

Four former players spoke, but none were willing to go on the record and speak about the status of JT3 and the program.

"Loyalty and fear," one told ESPN on why they weren't willing to attach their name to anything. "Fear of Big John and where you stand. You don't mess with him."

"I'm still scared of him, and I'm a grown man now," added another.

That's part of the issue. Big John, now 75, built the Georgetown program. He guided the Hoyas to three Final Fours, a national title and 596 wins from 1972-99. The school recently named the brand-new $65 million John R. Thompson Jr., Intercollegiate Athletic Center after him. In a way, the Hall of Famer still presides over the program. He sits along the baseline for every home game at the Verizon Center. He is close with those in power at the university, including school president John J. DeGioia, who was a student at the school back when Big John was coaching. It's unlikely that any move will be made with JT3 even after what's on track to be a third time in four years in which the Hoyas -- now 14-16 overall and 5-12 in the Big East after Tuesday's 62-59 loss against Seton Hall -- won't make the NCAA tournament. Since Georgetown is a private university, contract details are not available.

The elder John Thompson declined to speak for this story. JT3 issued a statement through the Georgetown athletics department.

"First and foremost, our fans are terrific and have been terrific," he said. "They've experienced some good times with us, and now, with the stretch we are having, I understand their frustration. There is no one more frustrated than I am. We are accustomed to winning. I know that our players and staff are working hard and playing hard. No one cares more about this program and its tradition than I do."

Earlier this year, JT3 spoke of optimism. He said last season was an aberration -- that this year's Georgetown squad would get back to the tournament. He spoke about the new facility and how it would help with recruiting.

But the Hoyas (14-16, 5-12 Big East) have regressed even deeper into the depths of despair in the conference. Georgetown will finish well under .500 in the league for the second consecutive year and sit above only DePaul in the standings. The Blue Demons have just two Big East wins this season -- one coming against Georgetown.

"I love the school, and he's a really, really good man," one former Hoya said of JT3. "But he's just not getting it done."

In 2008, there was a legitimate excuse. After all, that Georgetown team ran into Davidson and a kid named Steph Curry in the NCAA tournament. Two years later, Georgetown got beat by Ohio University in the first round. In 2011, it was 11th-seeded VCU that manhandled the Hoyas by 18 in the opener. The next year it was a second-round loss to another 11-seed, this time NC State. Florida Gulf Coast, seeded 15th, showed second-seeded Georgetown the door in the first round in 2013. In 2014, the Hoyas missed the tournament. In 2015 it was a second-round out before again missing the tournament last season.

It's now been a decade since Georgetown fans had any rooting interest come the second weekend.

"How many more years are they going to give him of not making the tournament?" asked one former player.

There are five Hoyas currently in the NBA: Hibbert, Green, Greg Monroe, Otto Porter and Hollis Thompson. Again, JT3 didn't recruit Hibbert and Green. He did a terrific job evaluating Porter and beat out a ton of big boys for the Monroe, who was rated by some as the No. 1 player in the country.

But recruiting has been sub-par. Josh Hart, who helped Villanova to a national title a season ago and is a Wooden Award candidate this year, played at nearby Sidwell Friends. Kris Jenkins, who made the title-winning shot for the Wildcats in April, went to Gonzaga Prep in Washington, D.C.

The Hoyas landed six players in ESPN's Top 100 from 2012-14. Three transferred -- Isaac Copeland (Nebraska), Paul White (Oregon) and Stephen Domingo (Cal) -- out of the program. Reggie Cameron barely plays. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera was productive, and so is current Hoya L.J. Peak.

Two of the former players maintain that JT3 and his staff -- which has seen turnover in recent years -- doesn't recruit to its system.

"He still tries to recruit high-level guys, regardless of the fit," one player said. "He needs high-skilled guys, not necessarily the top talent. Obviously, some of the guys fit well -- but most of them don't.

"Georgetown actually looks like the team the Princeton offense was actually built to beat."

This is a proud program with tradition. Big John made the Hoyas a national name and brought in big-time pros -- Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo -- to play for Georgetown.

But now the talent isn't all that's dwindling. Fan apathy has set in as well. From 2007 to 2011, Georgetown was drawing in excess of 12,000 to the 20,000-plus seat Verizon Center. For the past two seasons, it's been less than half-full. There have been "Fire Thompson" chants heard throughout the building this season, and a petition has spread to spearhead the movement for a coaching change.

Even the student newspaper has turned on JT3, with a recent column saying it's time to make a move.

Georgetown is not feared, respected nor nationally relevant anymore. We, the students, are all too aware; it is the athletic department, DeGioia and Thompson who choose to remain blissfully ignorant.
-- Chris Balthazard and Michael Ippolito wrote in The Hoya last week

Alumni want Final Four appearances again -- or, at the very least, NCAA tournament berths. Instead, they will likely be watching a handful or Big East teams not named Georgetown hear their names called on Selection Sunday.

"It's embarrassing," one former player said. "And something needs to be done."

But with that security blanket -- Big John sitting along the baseline, his name affixed to the practice facility -- casting a mammoth shadow around the program, it doesn't appear that a change is likely anytime soon.