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Legendary Georgetown Coach John Thompson Jr. Dies at 78

Photo by: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Just days after Arizona coaching great Lute Olson died, the college basketball world lost another legend. John Thompson Jr. has died at age 78.

Thompson built Georgetown into a powerhouse program, but he was also so much more than just a coach.

He became the first African-American head coach to win a major collegiate championship when he led the Hoyas to the school’s first national title in 1984.

During his 27 years at the helm, he also lead the Hoyas to three Final Four appearances (1982, 1984, 1985). He also earned seven Coach of the Year awards including from the Big East conference (1980, 1987, 1992).

Thompson rattled off 20 NCAA Tournament appearances, including 14-straight from 1979-1992. He had a career record of 586-239 (.714).

He saw 26 players selected in the NBA Draft, eight of which were drafted in the first round. Two of Thompson’s best, Patrick Ewing and Allen Iverson, were drafted No. 1 overall. Four of his players — Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Motombo, Ewing and Iverson — are in the Hall of Fame.

However, Thompson’s legend grew even more for what he did by not being on the court.

In the late 1980’s Thompson came face-to-face with a couple big issues. First, when he confronted notorious D.C. drug lord Rayful Edmond III, who was linked to at least 40 homicides.

The story goes that Edmond befriended several Hoyas players, including Alonzo Mourning. After Thompson confirmed the relationships between his players and Edmond, the two met up.

The interaction started cordially, but when Edmond tried to tell Thompson the players weren’t involved in anything illegal the niceties left. Thompson, who was 6’10”, stood up and unleashed his booming voice. Edmond never had another interaction with any Hoya players after that.

In Jan. 1989, Thompson walked out of the arena before Georgetown was set to battle Boston College in protest of NCAA Proposition 48.

The rule’s “standards” called for the athlete to have a 2.0 GPA in high school and a minimum 700 score on the SAT. Thompson told the LA Times, “I feel it is a discriminatory thing, especially for a kid who is at a low socioeconomic level.”

For more context:

He was so much more than a coach. In case you forgot, Allen Iverson credited Thompson with saving his life during his Hall of Fame speech. AI said it again today.

His family released the following statement:

“We are heartbroken to share the news of the passing of our father, John Thompson, Jr. Our father was an inspiration to many and devoted his life to developing young people not simply on, but most importantly, off the basketball court. He is revered as a historic shepherd of the sport, dedicated to the welfare of his community above all else. However, for us, his greatest legacy remains as a father, grandfather, uncle, and friend. More than a coach, he was our foundation. More than a legend, he was the voice in our ear everyday. We will miss him but are grounded in the assurance that we carry his faith and determination in us. We will cherish forever his strength, courage, wisdom and boldness, as well as his unfailing love.  We know that he will be deeply missed by many and our family appreciates your condolences and prayers. But don’t worry about him, because as he always liked to say, ‘….”Big Ace’” is cool.”

Coaches and colleagues around the basketball world posted their thoughts on Thompson on social media.

Former Hoya under Thompson, current Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing:

Thompson’s Alma Mater, Providence:

Celtics, Basketball Legend Bill Russell:

Duke Coach, Mike Krzyzewski:

Former Duke center, ESPN Analyst Jay Bilas:

Chicago Bulls Legend, Michael Jordan:

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