Shortly after Mark Turgeon took over at Maryland in 2011, he called John Thompson III at Georgetown. Turgeon wanted the Terps to play the Hoyas for the first time in years, but knew it would be some time before his team would be on the same level as Thompson’s.
“He wanted to give me some time to get my program up and coming,” Turgeon recalled Wednesday, “it was going to happen eventually.”
Nearly 22 years to the day that the Terps and Hoyas last played in a regularly-scheduled men’s basketball game, Maryland and Georgetown will meet Nov. 17 at the Xfinity Center in College Park as part of the inaugural Gavitt Tipoff Games between the Big Ten and Big East conferences.
In separate conference calls, the two coaches seemed happy to finally get it done.
“We’re just glad it’s Georgetown and I’m sure they’re happy they got Maryland, it’s going to be great,” Turgeon said. “Home and home the next two years, it gives something people to talk about. Both teams should be good. It should be good for the area, it also should be good for college basketball.”
Said Thompson III: “I think the time is right. We are excited, they are excited. I think it’s going to be good. I think it’s great for the fans, I think it’s great for both schools, I think we’re both going to be pretty good this year. For both teams it’s going to be a good early-season test.”
The two schools will meet as part of the series — named for the late longtime Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt — in 2016 at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. It revives a rivalry that once went interrupted for nearly 30 years (between 1947 and 1976) and then went dormant for 13 years, between 1980 and 1993, after former Hoyas coach John Thompson Jr. refused to play the Terps.
Scheduled one year by local promoter Russ Potts, Maryland upset the then-No. 15 Hoyas at USAir Arena in 1993. After that happened, the elder Thompson declined a return game at Cole Field House — or anywhere else. The teams subsequently met twice in tournaments, including the 2001 NCAA tourament.
“Time goes by, and I think it’s a good thing that those teams are playing each other again,” former Maryland coach and Hall of Famer Gary Williams said Wednesday. “I know when I was coaching, that was always a big question that you would get — when are you going to play Georgetown?”
The relationship between Turgeon and Thompson III helped smooth the path for the Big Ten and the Big East to put it together.
“It’s out of [our] hands, but neither one of us fought it,” Turgeon said. “In the past, we talked about starting a series, we knew the Gavitt Games was coming up so we didn’t fight it.”
Said Thompson III: “Obviously, Mark and I get along, we’re friends. This is something that possibly could have been done a couple of years ago. We’re just glad that we’re here now and we’re ready to move forward. We don’t need to talk about the ghosts of the past. We’re just excited to move forward.”
The contentious relationship between the schools was formed in the 1970s between the elder Thompson and Lefty Driesell and was further fueled in 2012, when Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said that the Terps would not play the Hoyas in any sport until the men’s basketball teams could find a way to schedule a game.
“We are honored to be a part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games. There is no doubt it is going to be an electric atmosphere,” Anderson said in a statement released by the university. “We’re excited for our fans, alumni and campus community as it will be a very special night in College Park.”
Driesell said Wednesday that the revival of the Maryland-Georgetown rivalry “will be good for basketball in [the] area” and that his relationship with both Thompsons is good — the elder Thompson even sponsored Driesell’s unsuccessful nomination for Naismith Hall of Fame consideration.
“John [Jr.] and I are great friends,” Driesell said. “If they’re not playing Maryland, I pull for Georgetown.”
Duane Simpkins, now an assistant coach at North Carolina-Greensboro, had a reaction typical of many college basketball fans who grew up in the area, as the former DeMatha star and McDonald’s All-American did.
“It’s about time,” said Simpkins, who as a sophomore point guard in 1993 helped the Terps erase a 14-point deficit in the last 12 minutes of regulation and then hit the game-winner in overtime. “It makes perfect sense.
“From the standpoint of having two high-profile programs that traditionally have been really good and both have won national championships and are 30 minutes away, it makes for good basketball in the D.C. area.”
The 1993 game was not only the start of a turnaround for the Terps, who reached the Sweet 16 a year after suffering the only losing season under Williams in his 22 years at Maryland. It was also a coming-out party for freshman center Joe Smith, who scored 26 points and pulled down nine rebounds against Georgetown All-American Othella Harrington.
“Othella was good,” Simpkins said of Harrington, who had 16 points and 15 rebounds. “But Joe was better.”
Recalling the “high energy” atmosphere in Landover that day, Simpkins said that he was “really surprised that the Maryland fans dominated the building. I don’t think it was capacity, but there were a lot of people there.”
Later that season, Maryland received its first NCAA tournament bid in five years — its first under Williams, who had returned to his alma mater in 1989 — and advanced to the Sweet 16.
Whether this two-year home-and-home series will spur a complete revival similar to that of Kentucky and Louisville, which now meet annually after going 60 years without playing during the regular season, is still yet to be determined.
Both Thompson III and Turgeon are cautious.
“We have to see,” Thompson said. “And don’t write that Thompson doesn’t want it to be an annual occurance. I think with the fluidity of what’s going on with scheduling and everything, I think we have to step back and see. It’s definitely an appealing series for both parties.”
Said Turgeon: “This just got popped on us. What a great deal that it is happening. Let’s be excited about the two years.”