A Sad Epilogue to a Great Story

By Sean P. Flynn Hoya Staff Writer

At last onday’s game against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden, former Men’s Basketball Head Coach John Thompson was honored in a pregame ceremony with former foe Lou Carnesecca, St. John’s head coach during the Big East’s heyday. Thompson was presented with a sweater, Carnesecca’s signature clothing during his coaching days.

The gift was a direct reference to one of Thompson’s most famous moments, the Feb. 27, 1985, “Sweater Incident,” when Thompson stunned a Madison Square Garden crowd by wearing a vintage Carnesecca sweater. “I didn’t mind him upstaging me,” Carnesecca says of the game, “but he had to beat me, too. He took the crowd out of the game and he took us out, too.” Thompson’s showmanship helped the No. 2 Hoyas easily avenge an earlier loss to the No. 1 Redmen, as the Hoyas won 85-69. Georgetown would beat St. John’s two weeks later in the Big East and three weeks after that would defeat the Redmen in the NCAA semifinal.

14 years later, this sweater ceremony represented a bygone era, a day and age when Big East basketball was fun, when the Garden was always sold out for Redmen games, and St. John’s and Georgetown were two of the premier programs in the nation. Every battle was an epic struggle. Every rivalry was fierce. And every game had national implications. Now the Hoyas game against the No. 11 Red Storm couldn’t draw 10,000 fans to the Garden. Back here in Washington, student apathy towards Georgetown hoops is as high as it has ever been. While Georgetown home games used to be a hot ticket on this campus, nowadays the Hoyas have trouble getting students to games, even after moving to the more convenient MCI Center.

The last 10 days have been filled with various well-deserved tributes to Thompson. To the black community, Thompson’s impact is immeasurable. Black coaches owe their current jobs in large part to what Thompson’s success did for them. To Thompson’s players, he was an authority figure who made sure that they had an education coming out of college. For all black players, Thompson was a spokesman, highlighted by his boycott of two games in 1989 due to freshman eligibility requirements that he found discriminatory. For Georgetown the institution, Thompson’s presence has allowed it to hit the bigtime, specifically in college basketball but also academically. As applications increased because of the basketball team’s success, Georgetown began to gain a higher stature as a school.

But because Thompson’s impact on the country has been so widespread, lost in the mix is what the current Georgetown students have thought. As Georgetown has struggled, the students stopped showing up.

Part of the problem is a series of embarrassing incidents in the last two years. News surrounding the team 10 years ago usually involved who it beat or how far in the NCAA Tournament it was going to go or even about the social issues Thompson was championing. But ever since Georgetown lost to UNC-Charlotte in the NCAA Tournament first round in March of 1997, good news has been replaced by embarrassing news. Victor Page’s early departure; Ed Sheffey’s marijuana conviction in Landover, Md., transfer to New Mexico and car wreck in West Texas; Kenny Brunner’s disappearance, transfer to Fresno State and arrest for assault with a samurai sword; Kevin Millen’s (GSB ’95) arrest for stalking Thompson and now Shernard Long’s transfer to Georgia State.

The other part of the problem is far deeper – a certain arrogance that emanates from the program. So much of what happens when it comes to Georgetown men’s basketball totally disregards the student body, such as the refusal to have a Midnight adness celebration, the playing of games off campus, the perennial scheduling of cupcakes like Indiana-Purdue and Grambling State and the placement of student seating in the endzones. Too often it seems like students are the least important part of the Georgetown basketball puzzle.

In truth, it’s an ends-justifies-the-means situation – none of these qualms we have with the program matter if the team wins; but except for the seniors who were around to see Allen Iverson, most of the current student body has seen more scandal than success.

In its heyday, the arrogance of the Georgetown basketball program was endearing to Hoya fans. From Thompson’s outspokenness on controversial public issues to the wearing of gray uniforms at home and the accusations of “Basket-brawl,” being a fan of the team that everyone loved to hate was fun.

But for a junior like myself, Georgetown basketball just hasn’t been fun. While the arrogance persisted, and the basketball team became more and more removed from the rest of the student body, the losing and scandal became too common and being a basketball fan here became a nuisance. Why should the students go out of their way to support a losing team that hardly anybody gets to know while they go off and embarrass us?

The saddest part of it all is that in the end, this is the atmosphere in which Thompson departed. For a man who is among the most important figures in Georgetown’s history, whose name is synonymous with Georgetown basketball and who is such an important history in all of college sports to go out on such a low note is a tragedy. While North Carolina legend Dean Smith was able to depart a winner, Thompson left in the middle of his worst season in 25 years, and thus may not have gotten the respect from this student body he once did.

For the future of basketball at Georgetown, there is hope. The Garden battle against St. John’s was reminiscent of the day when Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing (COL ’85) faced off and the New York fans had no mercy for their hated opponents from Washington.

Saturday’s game against Syracuse was maybe the most intense home game since the Iverson era. The student section was as large as it has been in three years, the crowd was loud and one of Thompson’s greatest legacies – the Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry – was alive and kicking as if Rony Seikaly and Sherman Douglas were still battling Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe utumbo for East Coast bragging rights. And it seems that for the first time in a long time, the Hoyas’ Big East meetings are not the sloppy, mistake-plagued games of recent years, but instead 40-minute, down-to-the-wire wars, where big men dominate as much as guards and the word “offense” peacefully coexists with “defense.”

Thompson cast a shadow over the game and Georgetown longer than his 6-foot-10 frame, and last week’s games, proves that. But sadly, we’re only in college for four years, and the only legacy that matters to us is what happens while we’re here.


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