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Zach Pekale | | November 27, 2020

Coaches honor John Thompson with white towels on their shoulders

Georgetown coach John Thompson dies at age 78

John Thompson's impact on college basketball is still visibly clear months after the former Georgetown head coach passed away at age 78 on August 30. Just look at the sidelines during a broadcast this season and there's a good chance you'll spot a white towel draped over the shoulder of your favorite team's head coach.

Thompson's five Big East championships and 1984 national title were cornerstones of a legacy with the Hoyas that stretched nearly three decades. But the white towel is an iconic piece of his personal history, connecting his coaching career to family. According to his upcoming memoir, I Came As a Shadow, here's what Thompson said about the towel's origin.

"My mother used to wear a towel hanging over one shoulder when she worked in the kitchen. She'd use it to wipe her hands or dry a dish. When I started coaching at St. Anthony's [High School], I draped a white towel over my shoulder during games as a tribute to her. She and my father didn't come to hardly any of the games, but I felt them with me when I wore that towel."

Thompson started at St. Anthony's in 1966. Fifty four years later, college basketball coaches across the country will don the white towel over their right shoulders to keep a piece of Thompson with them. According to ESPN, the idea came from an offseason meeting that included a large group of Black head coaches looking for a way to pay homage to Thompson in the first season since his passing. Thompson was the first Black head coach to win the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament.

Among the notable coaches to wear a towel on opening weekend was Patrick Ewing — Thompson's star player on the 1984 championship team and the current head coach at Georgetown.

"Coach Thompson is an integral part of my life. I've had the opportunity to play for him, for him to be a mentor, a friend, a confidant and I had the towel over my shoulder in honor of him," Ewing said following the Hoyas' season opener against UMBC. 

With approval from the Thompson family, the legacy of the white towel will be on display throughout the 2020-21 college basketball season.

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