We interrupt this moment in Creighton basketball history for the following bulletin: the Georgetown jersey is in town.
I've had this game circled all season, for one simple reason. That jersey. That name.
Georgetown. Thirty years later, it still resonates. Still shakes to the core, like an elbow from Michael Graham.
I can't help it. The Hoyas will run into CenturyLink Center tonight, and I'll want to see the towel. I'll look for the intimidating big man ready to reject anything thrown at him. And that was the head coach.
Inquiring minds want to know: Did Georgetown spend Friday night in Kearney, Neb.?
They arrive as a sixth-place team in the Big East, 11-7 overall, wounded and evoking as much sympathy. This is not your father's Georgetown — or John Thompson III's father's Georgetown. But it's still a name you pay attention to, still a name that demands respect.
As that name rolls into town like something out of the Smithsonian, it means something different to each generation.
“I remember Allen Iverson,” said Creighton senior Ethan Wragge, referring to the 1994-96 Georgetown star. “I know they were really good before that, but I don't know much about it.”
“I was pretty big on Allen Iverson,” Doug McDermott said. “That's what I think of when I think of Georgetown. Obviously, John Thompson. The original John Thompson.”
The original John Thompson created the original Georgetown. The Fortysomething generation and older can still see those images and still feel those emotions: fear and loathing, with an ample dash of respect.
Let's put it in a way that the younger generation of Creightonians might understand: Take your feelings toward Gregg Marshall and Wichita State and multiply by 10. That was the original Hoya Paranoia.
“The names John Thompson and Georgetown will go down with the great names in college basketball history,” said Big East TV analyst Bill Raftery, who will call tonight's game. “They're iconic.”
And it still is today, because what Thompson built was powerful.
The face of the structure was intimidation. Thompson, the back-up center and friend to another intimidator, Boston Celtic great Bill Russell, was a caring educator to some. Yet by others he was labeled a bully and a meanie.
Those labels fed into the overall image of the program. The imposing Thompson, with that white towel draped over his shoulder. Seven-foot Patrick Ewing as an intimidating eraser in the middle. The ruthless and relentless way the Hoyas used full-court pressure to make their opponents melt from fear or exhaustion or both.
They came along at a time when college basketball had no mainstream identity, and rode the wave of ESPN and the Big East in the early 1980s. Some would say the fact that Georgetown gave college hoops a legitimate villain was the thing that made ESPN and the Big East must-see TV.
They were a force, an impenetrable one. Georgetown players rarely did interviews. Thompson spoke for the team and didn't say much. They were known to stay as far away as an hour out of town on road trips. All part of the mystique.
Thirty years ago this season, Ewing and bruise brother Graham beat down the entire NCAA field and won Georgetown's lone national championship. They were poised for a repeat in 1985 until they lost to Villanova in the NCAA championship game. That the game is called one of the greatest upsets in sports history is a testimony to the strength of Georgetown.
Georgetown didn't return to the Final Four until 2007. I know it's hard to make the Final Four, but I still find that utterly amazing.
“John was able to get inner city kids to Georgetown and get them to play his defensive style,” said Raftery, head coach at Seton Hall from 1970-81. “They would get right up on you and never back off. They were so physically imposing. A lot of teams couldn't match that. But eventually, teams in the Big East caught up with them. They helped the other teams in the league rise up.”
So did others, like Oklahoma and UNLV, using that defensive pressure to smother opponents. It became a Duke and UConn world. There were Iverson, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo in the '90s, and several more NCAA appearances, but Thompson was not able to replicate the '80s before he stepped down in 1999.
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It's still a good basketball program. In his 10 years at Georgetown, John Thompson III is 230-99 with seven NCAA appearances, including the 2007 Final Four. And an NCAA win over Greg McDermott's Northern Iowa team in 2006.
The rematch tonight finds an interesting turn of the tables.
Georgetown brings the name, the jerseys, the history of winning. Of intimidation.
But McDermott's Creighton team is the favorite, the team trending nationally, the bunch with the best player on the court.
Waiting for the Hoyas will be a sell-out crowd — potentially the largest crowd in the arena's history — and a Jays' offense that dropped 96 points and 21 3-pointers on Villanova in its last at-bat.
Now that's intimidating. Among other adjectives.
“I've never seen anything like the other night,” said Raftery, who called the CU-'Nova game. “All of those players shooting so well, with confidence, attacking on offense. It's a veteran team that plays well together. I mean, some of those shots. Teams don't teach defense beyond the NBA line.
“I think we're all waiting to see what's next.”
This was already going to be a historic night with Georgetown's first appearance in Omaha. Now, history seems to happen whenever Wragge or McDermott touch the ball. Call it intimidation by offense.
Somewhere, the original John Thompson must approve.
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Video: Creighton's hot start against Villanova