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There would be the small matter of being a Thompson at Georgetown. But he has proved to be an adept curator of tradition. "I want those two trees there to shade me," John III told an interviewer in New Jersey earlier this season, referring to Coach and Pops. "I'll hide in the shadows."
Thompson's old boss at Princeton, Walters, likes to share with his coaches a copy of Walt Whitman's Song of Myself. When he does, he highlights this stanza:
I am the teacher of athletes, He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own proves the width of my own, He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher.
"People who are mentors understand those lines," Walters says. "You don't want replicates. You want originals. We're the sum total of the major influences in our life, but John is also his own man.
"By the way, one of the next lines is, 'My words itch at your ears till you understand them.'"
PRINCETON AND Georgetown are braided through Thompson's life, and it was at the expense of one and for the other that he had already scored his greatest recruiting coup. When John III was a Princeton freshman, his resident adviser asked him to host a high school senior from New Jersey—a young woman who was leaning toward Georgetown, believing Princeton to be too close to home. He showed her around campus, and she enrolled. "There wasn't even much of a conversation," Monica Moore Thompson recalls of the first time they met. "It boiled down to, 'Go to Princeton.'" By his senior year they were an item.
In May 1997 they were married in the chapel on campus. During her husband's days as a coach at Princeton, Monica worked in the university's development office, but with their move to D.C. she stopped working briefly while he guided the Hoyas to the NIT his first season.
Monica's diagnosis with breast cancer came during a routine physical on the eve of the 2005--06 season. The next few weeks were a blur of emotions, obligations and uncertainty for the whole family. But she was there for the season opener at Navy on Nov. 18, having driven to Annapolis with the three Thompson children: daughter Morgan, now 10, and sons, John Wallace, 6, and Matthew, 4. The following week she prepared Thanksgiving dinner for the team—just as she'd done every year since John had become a head coach—even though she was booked for surgery the next day. (The players didn't learn of her diagnosis until several days later.) "John and I had talked about him taking a leave," Monica says. "His dad mentioned it too. In the end we decided against it."
Her chemotherapy ran concurrently with the basketball season, from December to March. The night before a home loss to Vanderbilt, John III slept at the hospital in a recliner at her bedside. Says Monica, "Looking back, he says that was the least prepared he'd ever been for any game as a player or coach."
Her husband never missed a session of chemo all season, even as the Hoyas knocked off No. 1 Duke in January and reached the Sweet 16. "He would go to the doctor's office, to practice, back to the doctor's," says Ronny, John III's younger brother. "But John has an incredible ability to handle a lot of things and keep it all together. He's like our mom. He's very gathered."