John Thompson III joins ESPN as a college basketball analyst
The longtime Georgetown basketball coach is trading in his clipboard for a microphone
In the seven months since leaving Georgetown, John Thompson III has been watching basketball differently.
His thoughts as he views games these days include what would he say about this play, how would he explain why this particular matchup works, or why this team has succeeded making this adjustment versus what it was doing earlier in the game.
Starting this college basketball season, he’ll be viewing, digesting and analyzing the game for the viewing audience as an analyst for ESPN across its platforms. Thompson will work in the studio besides being a game analyst.
The former Georgetown men’s basketball coach and Big East Coach of the Year joins ESPN after a 12-season tenure with the Hoyas, five days after being named a member of the NCAA’s 14-person Commission on College Basketball and four days after he was announced as an assistant coach for the USA World Cup qualifying team. He joins the bench of USA Basketball head coach Jeff Van Gundy, an NBA analyst for ESPN.
“The opportunity to stay around the game, and experience it and share my thoughts but from a different perspective, I’m looking forward to learning the business and growing on this side of the table,” Thompson said. “I’m appreciative that [ESPN] is flexible with juggling my schedule to allow me to work with Coach Van Gundy and USA Basketball. … Being a college coach, I think I’m used to working 18-hour days, so being able to manage these three very important and exciting opportunities, I don’t think that’ll be a problem.”
After a four-year playing career at Princeton that ended in 1988, Thompson served as an assistant coach with the team from 1995-2000 before being promoted to the team’s head coaching position. During those four seasons, Princeton won three Ivy League championships and appeared twice in the NCAA tournament and once in the NIT.
In 2004, Thompson joined the Hoyas and coached the team to its first Final Four since 1985. In the 11 years after he took the program over, his Hoyas made it to eight NCAA tournaments. Thompson’s 22-year career in coaching ended March 23, when Georgetown put out a statement saying it would not be retaining the coach.
Thompson released a three-paragraph statement in which he complimented the program and expressed his excitement about what the future held for him.
“Basketball has been a part of my life since 1972, which makes this moment even more impactful,” he said in the statement, “but I look forward to my next chapter.”
Thompson said Monday: “It’s a different hat that I have on now. As a coach, so much of the job is to protect the student-athlete and to protect the school. Every fan would love the coach to come into the press conference after the game and thoroughly explain what he did wrong, what little Billy did wrong, why when we ran the two plays, the two plays didn’t work and that’s not always in the coach’s, team’s or players’ best interest. Now on the other side of the table, that’s what the job is, to enlighten the listening audience, to go over what should have happened or why something evolved the way it did.”
Less than three months after his separation from the school, Thompson did an interview with The Washington Post‘s Dan Steinberg regarding what he had done in the last 75 days and what potential opportunities he was looking to explore.
Similar to his father — John Thompson Jr., the Hall of Fame former Georgetown basketball coach — Thompson III indicated that he had an interest in trying broadcasting or some other form of basketball analysis.
Big John did a local radio show on WTEM for 13 years and color commentary for Westwood One, while Thompson III’s brother, Ronny, had a good career at Comcast SportsNet after his time as a coach ended.
“I think if anyone knows my dad, he’s going to give his advice to any and everyone,” Thompson said with a laugh. “But I’m fortunate to have a father and brother in this field that I can lean on. We haven’t gotten into the season, but they’ve been extremely helpful.”
In June, Thompson and agent David Falk met with Montag Group president and CEO Sandy Montag, who helped coaches such as John Madden, Jay Bilas, Steve Mariucci and Hubie Brown transition into successful careers in media. SportsBusiness Journal broke the news of the Montag Group signing on to represent Thompson III.
“I found him to be extremely engaging, well-spoken, analytical,” Montag told Steinberg, “and I just came away from lunch feeling that he has the ability to be a really good broadcaster.”
Asked whom he’s been studying since he knew he wanted to start pursuing media, Thompson III said there are too many people to list. However, he’s been watching Doris Burke do her job and understanding how she does what she does, what makes it so effective and how the information she provides helps the color commentator. He’s also soaked in how Gus Johnson effectively does his job.
Thompson III is ready to finish the year with a big splash and to open up to basketball fans in his new life as a broadcaster.
“There’s no substitute for experience. That being said, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to producers that I’ve gotten to know as a coach … and what it takes to make their job easier and what it takes to be good at this job,” Thompson said.