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Georgetown's Thompson Gears for Big East--and the Far East

December 13, 1987|WILL DUNHAM | United Press International

WASHINGTON — While most college basketball coaches look toward Kansas City, Mo., site of this season's Final Four, Georgetown Coach John Thompson eyes a more distant site -- Seoul, South Korea.

As coach of the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team that will compete in Seoul next fall, Thompson has drawn double duty this season. He is preparing Georgetown for a shot at another Big East Conference title while assembling the nation's top amateur players for a shot at Olympic gold.

"It's a great honor, as well as a lot of work," Thompson said of the Olympic coaching job. "I don't know whether I have a certain amount of anxiety about it. I have a certain amount of jadedness about it. I think I'm pretty tired and worn out. (But) tiredness is not the thing that I have to budget against as much as planning so I take care of both the responsibilities."

The two jobs have already begun intruding on each other. On the night Georgetown played an exhibition game against the Canadian national team in Washington, Thompson was in Las Vegas, Nev., scouting the Soviet national squad. This season Thompson will scout prospective Olympic players -- many of whom will play against Georgetown.

"I think I've got to take care of all the responsibilities -- scouting of the teams, getting an opportunity to see players who can play the way we'd like to play, as well as to fulfill the obligations to Georgetown," Thompson said. "I just have to do two jobs."

In his 16 seasons at Georgetown, Thompson has become one of the nation's most respected coaches and one the finest defensive specialists. He also has developed a reputation as a sometimes cantankerous individual who critics say fostered so-called "Hoya paranoia" -- his program's well-documented inhospitability to outsiders.

Thompson, who won two NBA titles as a backup to Bill Russell on the great Boston Celtics teams of the mid-60s, had a 350-120 record at Georgetown entering this season, with nine straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, three to the Final Four and the national championship in 1984.

Thompson understands the expectations pinned on the Olympic team. He also wants everyone to understand the limitations.

"I'm sure the American public will expect us to win gold medal," he said. "But I never put a lot of credence into what other people think."

The rest of the basketball world is catching up to the United States in talent and coaching. The latest evidence being the U.S. loss to Brazil for the gold medal at the Pan American Games in Indianapolis this August.

"I think the real significance should be an awakening of the United States' public," Thompson said. "I've been saying for years that it's a difficult situation to formulate a team in a few months that plays against people who have been playing together for years. You have our past Olympians in professional basketball. Their past Olympians will be playing these kids who we assemble this year.

"It's time that we wake up and realize that the people's abilities have moved up. We just can't walk out there and beat people. We have to be conscious of the system. That's why I'm not opposed to this professional thing that's being talked about."

Thompson referred to the debate over allowing basketball professionals in the Olympics, as has been permitted in tennis, ice hockey and soccer. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, after all, would make a fine Olympic starting five.

Thompson has long been involved with the Olympics. At Providence, he was invited to the trials for the 1964 Olympic team. He served as an assistant to long-time friend Dean Smith, the North Carolina coach, on the gold medal-winning 1976 Olympic team and was a member of the selection committee that evaluated talent for Indiana Coach Bob Knight's gold medal-winning 1984 team.

He was named coach of the 1988 team in May 1986. He selected as assistants USC Coach George Raveling and Bill Stein, the athletic director at St. Peter's.

"As I started to get involved in coaching and realized that I would have an opportunity to be a coach at a major university, then I decided I certainly would welcome the opportunity to coach the United States Olympic team," Thompson said. "I consider it a tremendous honor. When I went with Dean Smith to Montreal, it became more real to me to want to do that because I was very excited and very impressed."

Thompson visited Seoul this summer to scout hotels, practice sites and playing facilities. He also wanted to get a feel for city.

"I had an opportunity to see the sights, I had an opportunity to see what situation I'll be in," he said. "I would never like to take a group of individuals into a place that's totally unknown to me."

But Thompson faces other unknowns. The primary one being whether colleges will allow players to participate because the unusually late Summer Games will be held after most schools have started classes.

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