It's a cliché to say that college basketball is more about the on the front of the jersey than it is about the name on the back of the jersey.
But for 27 years, the Georgetown basketball program was synonymous with one name -- John Thompson. The big man with the towel draped over one shoulder took a small-time program and turned it into a national power. His teams won six Big East tournament and seven regular-season titles, went to three Final Fours and captured the 1984 NCAA championship. Then he abruptly retired in January 1999. Craig Esherick replaced Thompson and things have never been the same.
This season, the Thompson name returns to Georgetown in the form of John Thompson III. After four highly successful seasons at Princeton, Thompson, a native Washingtonian, accepted the challenge of setting up shop in his father's former office and resurrecting the once-proud program.
Thompson is anxious to get to work. Ask Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun about Charlie Villanueva and you get an honest evaluation. Ask Syracuse's Jim Boeheim about Hakim Warrick's development and there's a lengthy answer. Ask Thompson about any Georgetown player and -- as of mid-August -- about all the Hoyas' new coach could do was shrug.
"I need to learn my team," Thompson said. "Right after I accepted the job, we had a few individual workouts before school ended. I've watched some tape to get a feel for the players, but a lot of the learning and evaluating will start in September."
FRONTCOURTThompson won't be able to learn much about his frontcourt from watching film of last season. The only returning starter is 6-foot-8 junior Brandon Bowman. Gone are Gerald Riley and Courtland Freeman.
Amadou Kilkenny-Diaw and Sead Dizdarevic received scant playing time last season and scored a combined 58 points. Thompson might have to move Darrel Owens from guard to forward and start 7-2 freshman Roy Hibbert at center.
Incoming freshman Jeff Green, a 6-8 forward who can step out and knock down a perimeter jumper, could play a key role by allowing Bowman to spend time at small forward. In any scenario, Bowman's the main cog. He averaged 15.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore last season. "He's going to be extremely important," Thompson said. "He's a versatile player. He's capable of doing a lot of things on the basketball court."
BACKCOURTThere's not much to work with in the Hoyas' backcourt. Ashanti Cook returns to play the point, but Matt Causey, who proved to be a capable backup as a freshman, left the program. Ray Reed could move into the starting lineup with Cook shifting to shooting guard.
The combination of the 6-2 Cook with the 6-0 Reed would make Georgetown quick but small.
The only newcomer is Tyler Crawford, an unheralded 6-4 guard from Staunton, Va. If Owens does have to start at small forward, he'll still play a lot at the big guard position just because of the lack of capable bodies.
Thompson needs one or two of his younger frontcourt players to step up so that Owens, who made 43.7 percent of his 3-point attempts last year, can remain in the backcourt.
FINAL ANALYSISThompson is taking over his father's program in name only. The truth is Georgetown hasn't been Georgetown for years, going back to before Thompson's 1999 retirement.
In the two and half seasons after Allen Iverson left Georgetown, the elder Thompson's record was 43-31 overall and 17-23 in the Big East. Under Esherick, the Hoyas slipped to the bottom of the Big East. Georgetown posted a sub-.500 conference record in four of Esherick's six seasons, including 6-10 and 4-12 marks in the last two seasons.
"We have a big task ahead of us," Thompson said. "I don't want to look at the big picture, but we have to just take baby steps. We have to improve and get better every day. That's how we're going to go about this."