Washington

With a towel over his shoulder, Patrick Ewing reflects on John Thompson's impact

Washington

Across the country this week, college basketball coaches are giving respect to the late coaching trailblazer John Thompson II. By throwing a towel with a picture of 'Big John' over their shoulder, coaches pay homage to the trademark white towel that the former Georgetown coach made legendary.

Due to coronavirus-related cancelations and postponements, the Hoyas have yet to have a game since the towels were distributed. Now, all eyes will turn to Georgetown this weekend to culminate the respect the coaching landscape has for Thompson.

Before his team's upcoming game against Seton Hall, current Hoyas head coach Patrick Ewing had his towel lapped over his left shoulder in his pregame media availability. 

On the sidelines of Georgetown games, Thompson was an exuberant character who also commanded respect. Part of that was due to his stature as a 6-foot-10 head coach who towered over pretty much everybody on the floor. Every game, though, you could count on that white towel to be dropped over a shoulder. 

But Ewing - who played for Thompson in the early 1980s and helped win Thompson's lone national championship - thinks that the former coach would take the honor from these coaches in stride. Probably exactly how Thompson's peers would expect him to take it.

"Well, I'm sure there'd be some f-bombs and some other things in there," Ewing said in a Zoom press conference. "It's like 'blank, blank, blank, blank those guys, we're trying to beat them,' but I'm sure he's definitely honored."

 

Thompson became the first Black head coach to lead a college basketball program to a national championship. He turned the Hoyas into a national power and ultimately coached 26 players who would be drafted into the NBA.

His impact on the game and how to direct a program is still revered to this day. 

Not only did it break barriers for several Black coaches after Thompson, but also for Ewing who is leading the storied Hoyas program. 

"I'm honored to be able to be able to know him playing for him and he has paved the way for a lot of people," Ewing said. "It's funny I was talking to someone yesterday and we were talking about how he has fought all the battles that need to be fight [sic] so that we can do all the different things that we do here.

"Without the school, telling us 'no we can't do it,' like kneeling for the national anthem, speaking up about social injustice. You know all those things that he fought for gave me the opportunity as the coach here now, to be able to fight those fights without someone telling me 'no you can't do that.'" 

This is not the first tribute coaches have organized for Big John. At the tip of the season, several coaches put together an informal honor by donning a white towel in their first game of the season. It was the first time teams had taken the court since the Hall of Famer's passing in August 2020.

The latest honor with Thompson printed on the towel was put together by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.