John Thompson, Georgetown and Olympic basketball coach, dies at 78

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John Thompson, the towering Georgetown men’s basketball coach for 27 seasons who was also a U.S. Olympic head coach, has died at age 78.

“We are heartbroken to share the news of the passing of our father, John Thompson, Jr.,” Thompson’s family said in a statement, according to NBC Sports Washington. “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.”

Thompson, hired by Georgetown from St. Anthony’s High School in D.C. in 1972, inherited a 3-23 team.

Starting in 1975, the Hoyas made 24 straight postseason appearances. During that stretch, they won the 1984 NCAA title and finished runner-up twice, all with Patrick Ewing, who is now Georgetown’s head coach. Thompson was the first Black coach to win a national title and earned a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Thompson, unmistakable at 6 feet, 10 inches and working games and practices with a white towel draped over his right shoulder, also coached future NBA All-Stars Allen Iverson, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Sleepy Floyd.

“Thanks For Saving My Life Coach,” was posted on Iverson’s social media. “I’m going to miss you, but I’m sure that you are looking down on us with a big smile.”

While coaching Georgetown, Thompson was an assistant coach under Dean Smith for the 1976 U.S. Olympic team that took gold in Montreal.

In 1988, Thompson was the head coach of the last U.S. Olympic team made up of college players, which took bronze in Seoul. That team boasted eight NBA first-round draft picks including David Robinson, Mitch Richmond, Danny ManningHersey Hawkins and Dan Majerle.

Before tryouts, Thompson told the future Hall of Famer Robinson that he wouldn’t make the team, despite being the No. 1 overall pick in 1987, according to “Dream Team,” the 2012 book by Jack McCallum. Robinson didn’t enter the NBA until 1989 due to obligations with the U.S. Navy.

The Americans lost to the Soviet Union 82-76 in the semifinals, their second defeat in Olympic history. The next day, they crushed Australia 78-49 in the bronze-medal game.

‘”I wanted us to be emotional against Australia because I didn’t want to go out on a losing note,” Thompson said in Seoul, according to The New York Times. “We made one mistake here, and it was a very big mistake.”

Many tie that defeat to NBA players being allowed into the Olympics starting in 1992, but that movement was afoot years before Seoul.