Happy birthday, George Thompson

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Happy birthday, George Thompson

Postby rlee » Wed Dec 01, 2010 1:31 am

Happy birthday, George Thompson

By Brian Neuberger, Marquette Golden Eagles Examiner

In 1964, Al McGuire, fresh off a seven-year run as the head coach at Belmont Abbey College, took the reins of the Marquette University basketball program as it was coming off its worst season (5-21) since 1957 and was on the verge falling off of the college basketball landscape.

The 36-year-old McGuire did little to change to fortunes of the MU program at the outset as the Warriors compiled a 22-30 mark over the New York native’s first two years at the helm.

Entering the 1966-67 campaign, however, everything changed with the arrival of George Thompson, who turned 63 years old on Monday, as the Brooklyn, N.Y. native led an MU attack that went 68-20 over his three varsity seasons and set into motion a string of 11 consecutive postseason appearances for McGuire and the Warriors.

After starring for Brooklyn’s Erasmus Hall High School, Thompson was the apple of many a college program’s eye. However, the man known as “Tip” was sold on Marquette upon meeting with the very candid and eccentric McGuire.

“He said, ‘You’re really good and we want you, but if you decide not to come we’re still going to win without you,’” said Thompson, as reported by Dan McGrath of the Chicago News Cooperative. “The New York basketball community is a very tight knit circle, so I knew Al and his brother Dick. I didn’t know a whole lot about Marquette, but I had a sense that he’d be able to get it going back there and it would be fun to be part of it.”

As a sophomore, the 6’2”, 200-pound Thompson averaged 18.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 50.0 percent from the field as MU went 21-9 and fell to Southern Illinois, 71-56, in the championship game of the National Invitational Tournament—the Warriors’ first postseason berth in four seasons.

Thompson, whose jersey (No. 24) is retired by the university, had his best statistical season during his junior campaign as he compiled team-highs of 22.9 points and 8.6 rebounds per game en route to setting five individual records: most points in one season, 664; most field goals in one season, 252; most free-throw makes in a season, 160; highest scoring average in one season, 22.8 ppg; and most points over a two-year varsity period, 1,187.

Additionally, MU put forth a 23-6 mark (its highest win total in nine seasons) and qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1961, ultimately losing to the Adolph Rupp-led Kentucky Wildcats, 107-89, in the semifinal of the Mideast Regional.

The following season, the Warriors improved to 24-5 as Thompson, the lone returning starter from the previous year’s club, averaged 20.2 points and 7.9 rebounds while connecting on a career-best 72.9 percent from the charity stripe.

MU began the season by winning 13 of their first 15 games and earned an at-large selection to the 1969 NCAA Tournament. After dispatching Kentucky in the Midwest Regional in Madison, Wis., the Warriors ran into a buzz saw in the Purdue Boilermakers and their All-American guard, Rick Mount.

The 6’4”, 180-pound Mount averaged 33.3 points per game during his junior season (including 40.6 ppg in Purdue’s three Tournament games) and earned the first of two consecutive Big Ten Player of the Year awards.

Overcoming an early deficit, MU forced the game into overtime where Mount sent the Boilermakers to the Final Four with a jumper at the buzzer.

Upon the conclusion of his blue and gold career, Thompson, currently the third all-time leader scorer in MU history (1,773 points), was selected by the Boston Celtics in the fifth round of the 1969 NBA Draft but elected to begin his professional career with the Pittsburgh Piper of the ABA, who had drafted him in the second round of the ABA draft.

Over the course of his five-year stint in the ABA (1969-74), Thompson averaged 20.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game while earning three ABA All-Star selections.

In his lone NBA campaign—during the 1974-75 season for the Milwaukee Bucks—Thompson averaged 10.7 points and 2.5 rebounds in 73 games.

At the conclusion of his playing career, Thompson returned to MU as a game analyst for the university’s radio broadcasts. After 27 behind the microphone, Thompson, whose 40-year career scoring mark was eclipsed by Jerel McNeal in 2009, transitioned to Briggs & Stratton where he advanced to the role of vice president for corporate communications before retiring three years ago.

While dozens of players have donned the MU uniform since Thompson’s glory days, the enduring impact of Thompson is perhaps best summed up by former Marquette great Doc Rivers, as reported by McGrath, who cited simply, “George Thompson is the father of Marquette’s basketball legacy.”
rlee
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