Ronny Thompson: The Man Behind the Curtain
Conversations with multiple current and former members of Georgetown men's basketball add detail to the role and influence that Ronny Thompson, son of John Thompson Jr., has inside the program.
As Georgetown men’s basketball tries to climb out of what is the lowest point in its storied program’s history, it’s easy to point the finger at Patrick Ewing as the root of the problem for many of the issues that have contributed to the downfall of a once-great basketball program.
But while Ewing certainly deserves a lion’s share of the responsibility for what has happened this season, it’s hard not to question whether Ewing has the right people around him, too.
Fans can certainly debate the merits of Ewing’s assistant coaches, or criticize the Director of Basketball Operations on staff who would rather scroll through his phone during a road Big East game than be of use to a struggling Georgetown team.
But there’s one member of the staff who has arguably more influence on Georgetown men’s basketball than anyone not named Patrick Ewing, who keeps on flying under the radar.
He isn’t listed in the staff directory to this day, but you may have heard of him before.
Ronny Thompson, son of John Thompson Jr., who both played (1988-1992) and coached (1998-2003) at Georgetown previously, quietly re-joined the program when Patrick Ewing was hired as head coach. The move was, unsurprisingly, initiated by John Thompson Jr., who had an enormous level of influence on the program until the day he passed away.
Ronny likes to keep a low profile. You will see him in Capital One Arena before Georgetown games, often talking with Director of Basketball Operations Bill Howze (his former assistant at Ball State), athletic director Lee Reed, or Director of Security Greg Roberts. During the games, Ronny isn’t a visible presence on the Georgetown sideline. But don’t let that fool you about his level of involvement with the team behind the scenes.
In multiple conversations with current and former members of the Georgetown men’s basketball program — who were granted anonymity for this story so that they could speak openly and honestly— Ronny Thompson, the self-described “chief of staff” for the team, emerged as a central figure in the daily operations of the team, someone who has a significant amount of influence in many areas of the program— even ones he doesn’t have expertise in.
If you think you don’t have much visibility into what exactly Ronny does as Chief of Staff for the team, you’re not alone. In nearly every interview with current and former members of the program, the consensus reply to the question “What exactly does Ronny do for the program?” was either a shrug or an “I don’t know”.
Areas such as helping manage the operating budget for the program, making sure academic eligibility requirements are met, and helping put together the team’s game schedule were suggested by multiple current members of the program when asked what parts of the program that Ronny is involved with.
“I was unsure of his exact role,” said one former staff member. “Maybe CFO? His position seemed administrative but somehow he had involvement with everything. Business, practice times, travel arrangements, etc. But he never traveled with the team for road games, except for the conference tournament.”
Thompson, who has an office on the fourth floor of the Thompson Athletic Center, undoubtedly does a lot for the program, but there are also stories in the program that point to a man who steps on a lot of toes and involves himself in areas of the program that wouldn’t usually require the input of someone in his position or with his background.
“Sometimes small things were blown out of proportion or exacerbated by Ronny, in my opinion,” said one source.
“There were times where he interjected his opinion that didn’t align with others who have expertise in that area, which slowed overall progress. I felt like there was some micromanaging going on with others on staff.”
One such story that paints a picture of the level of influence and control that Ronny exerts behind the scenes occurred early on in the Patrick Ewing era, between Thompson and Ewing’s original hire to be the team’s Director of Communications, Lori Hamamoto.
Hamamoto, who previously worked for the New York Knicks as their public relations director, was the first female public relations director for a New York sports team, and the fourth female to ever lead an NBA public relations department. As an incoming head coach, Ewing needed someone he could trust to run the show from a PR perspective, and Hamamoto was the easy pick for the New York Knick legend.
Along with assistant coach Louis Orr, Hamamoto was one of two hand-picked hires that Ewing prioritized bringing in when he started as head coach on the Hilltop.
However, Hamamoto lasted less than two years at Georgetown, abruptly and quietly leaving the program in 2018, with no public explanation given for her exit by the athletic department.
Hamamoto’s departure was characterized as a direct result of a “power struggle”, as one source put it, between herself and Ronny Thompson, an account that has been confirmed by multiple sources inside and around the program.
Despite having no background in sports PR or communications, Thompson, according to sources, wanted input into the communications strategy of the program, and Hamamoto, a sports PR veteran, chafed at being told how to do the job that Patrick Ewing trusted her to do, by someone with no background in public relations.
When Ronny wouldn’t relent, Hamamoto left the program, rather than continuing to swallow her pride and make things work with the program’s chief of staff. That left Ewing without one of only two people that he brought in with him, and created a hole in the communications department for the team, a void that still hasn’t been completely filled to this day.
Hamamoto’s exit was part of a “brain drain”— as put by a former staff member— from the program that occurred in the first couple of years of the Ewing Era, with other key departing personnel including academic advisor Kim Curry, executive assistant Robyn Curry, athletic trainer Mike Leonard, and assistant director of basketball operations Deborah Williams.
Thompson was not described as the main reason for these departures, but did contribute to moments of friction for multiple staff members at different points, according to sources.
“He tried to meddle in other staff members’ work, even though they didn’t report to him,” said one former member of the program. “Everyone was qualified to do their jobs, but Ronny created an unorthodox system that led to a lot of frustration for several people.”
While it’s certainly fair to say that Thompson has rubbed a number of people inside the program the wrong way, there are those who appreciate what he brings to the table, even if the way in which he operates can be a bit heavy-handed.
“There are so many layers of the program that function because he makes sure it happens,” said a current member of the program. “Without him, I don’t see how this lasts five years [under Patrick Ewing].”
The same person also referred to Ronny as an “octopus”, referencing how many different areas of the program that Thompson has a hand in.
Another former staff member said, “I feel Ronny had lots of influence, especially when Big John was around. Ronny made it seem that he was second in charge, behind Coach Ewing.”
Another source, speaking to just how involved Ronny likes to be, claimed that Thompson hired a staffer early on in the Ewing era who eventually began to start traveling with the team on the road.
“It was believed that he was Ronny’s eyes and ears on the road since Ronny didn’t travel with the team.”
According to that source, the staffer, whose identity could not be confirmed for this story, is no longer with the program.
While Thompson’s level of influence in the program is clear, what’s not clear is what other professional obligations he has, in addition to his duties as chief of staff for the team.
Last year, Thompson appeared on NBC Sports as an in-studio analyst during the Atlantic-10 Tournament.
This season, Thompson has called at least two different A-10 games.
Thompson’s continued work with NBC Sports raises questions about the nature of his employment at Georgetown, and whether he is a full-time, salaried employee.
(EDIT: New information received today from a Georgetown University employee with knowledge of Thompson’s employment status revealed that Thompson is listed by the university as a “salaried ongoing (regular) employee”.)
Georgetown University Athletics did not respond to a request for comment on Thompson’s role with the team.
At a minimum, for the chief of staff of a team that is winless in conference play to be collecting paychecks from a media entity instead of being in all-hands-on-deck mode with the team back in DC raises questions about Thompson’s commitment to the program that his late father built.
With Patrick Ewing’s seat becoming very warm as head coach at Georgetown, there has been a lot of discussion about what Georgetown will do with its head coach at the season’s conclusion.
While what happens is anyone’s guess at this juncture, what is also worth pondering is what will happen with Ronny if a new coach were to take over.
Will he push to remain in the role that his dad was responsible for installing him in when Patrick Ewing started as head coach? Or will he go quietly if a new coach wants to bring in his own people— with no holdovers?
Georgetown has long kept things in the family. Now, as the losses pile up and a dying program falls further into irrelevancy, it’s beginning to reap what it has sown.
A common theme in conversations with current and former members of the program was the feeling that Patrick Ewing is increasingly on an island these days, and with the current levels of dysfunction that exist in multiple areas of the program, Ewing, while ultimately responsible for his program, is not being set up for success with the current staff that he has in place around him.
While Ronny Thompson certainly bears some responsibility for the deteriorating culture in the program, he is far from the lone culprit. The decline of Georgetown basketball is a collective failure, from top to bottom. That much is clear, and deserves further examination moving forward.
As one source put it, “We are all guilty, but nobody is to blame.”
The role and influence of Ronny Thompson is a microcosm of a program that has relied on the same old guard for far too long, and is getting leapfrogged by Big East rivals and schools with fewer resources because of its refusal to bring in new voices with fresh ideas. Thompson is just one detail in a larger picture that shows a broken culture and a floundering program, but he is a key one nonetheless.
“The leadership starts from top to bottom,” said a member of the program. “It starts with previous generations that were in charge. If that is still ingrained with how we operate things, we will not succeed.”
“There is a cultural shift that has to take place.”
We will find out soon if Patrick Ewing and the university administration feel the same way.