Hoya Paranoia?

Let’s for a moment put aside the question as to whether or not that phrase actually makes any sense. It doesn’t matter whether we were trying to imply that our opponents are suspicious and mistrustful of us or if we were simply looking for a word that rhymed with “Hoya.” The result is still equally confusing.

After a vacation from winning, it seems our men’s basketball team has started to turn things around. This season’s change from afterthoughts to campus icons has taken place in no small part due to the combination of veteran leadership and an influx of new talent. But to focus solely on the leadership of Darrel Owens or the thundering dunks of Roy Hibbert would miss an enormous factor in the Hoyas’ transformation: Coach John Thompson III.

Despite whispers that Georgetown only pursued him as a publicity move to follow in his father’s footsteps, Thompson has used this national stage to prove himself to be an extremely capable coach.

Incorporating a dynamic new offense and a sound defense, Thompson has achieved a remarkable turnaround that will soon allow him to be seen not just as another legacy admission but as an excellent coach in his own right.

College athletics are the last opportunity for fans to see coaches as the teachers that they truly can be. After their days playing college sports, a lucky few athletes will go on to pursue their dreams professionally.

Sure, those who are fortunate enough to go pro will always have weaknesses and deficiencies in their games that can be improved, but at the point where they are already being paid millions of dollars to play, it takes a large degree of self-motivation and a strong character to turn off your Playstation, get into your Hummer and head to the gym to iron out your flaws.

Professional coaches, for the most part, are not there to offer direct help. Of course there will always be coaches like a Hubie Brown or a Steve Mariucci who use their superior knowledge of the sport’s intricacies to improve and build upon their players already considerable abilities. But professional coaches mainly fall into two categories – motivators and masterminds.

In the NFL, motivators fit the Jimmy Johnson mold. They’re seen more as machines than men. Their hirings are accompanied by the expectation that through yelling, screaming and long, intense practices, they can turn a group of regular professionals into proven winners.

In basketball, motivating coaches are usually ex-players who overachieved throughout their careers, like Nate McMillan in Seattle. These types of guys lead their players by example, getting them to work hard by preaching that they achieved everything in their careers on the basis of extra effort.

In all sports, mastermind coaches are the easiest to recognize. Because they adhere to an innovative yet rigid game plan which tells them what to expect at all times, they rarely break a sweat or lose their temper. The theory goes that even a team of regular guys can use the schemes of Bill Belichick’s 3-4 defense or the ingenuity of Phil Jackson’s triangle offense to blow confused opponents out of the water.

After college, even in the world of sports, there may not be very many opportunities for a continued education. College is the last place where coaches will take the time to develop a raw and tentative Emeka Okafor into a confident, dominant superstar. College coaches are the last ones who can turn Aaron Rodgers the junior college player into Aaron Rodgers the promising NFL quarterback prospect.

The difference between the mentalities of college and professional coaches is the reason that college coaches often fail to make a successful transition to the professional level.

When you look at a college coach, it’s easier to see an image of the guy who first taught you how to throw a spiral, to handle a basketball or to field a grounder than it is see a motivator or a mastermind. It’s hard to imagine this type of guy trying to get a millionaire athlete like Vince Carter to share the rock.

The best college coaches can compile a strong game plan and give the occasional inspiring talk in their own right, but it’s important to remember that for the most part they’re just dealing with really big, really talented kids. They have to be able to pull them aside and to take them out for ice cream after the game sometimes, too.

It’s so fitting that this season Georgetown has landed its strongest crop of freshmen in recent memory, because at the same time they’ve also brought in the right type of coach. Thompson might yell at Roy, scream at Green or devise a strategy to take advantage of Wallace’s quickness, but beyond his basic personality he’ll surely have the patience to work with them and to develop them into improved players.

Hoyas everywhere should be thankful that Thompson feels so at home on the Hilltop. With the job he’s done this year, we’re going to want him around as long as possible.

And if a larger program were to come calling for his services? Well now, that’s Hoya Paranoia.

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