On Wednesday evening, Marquette University athletics announced that men’s basketball great George Thompson had passed away earlier in the day due to complications from diabetes. He was 74 years old.
The #mubb and @MarquetteU family lost a true legend today with the passing of George Thompson, due to complications from diabetes. George made a tremendous impact, not only on the program, but the entire Milwaukee community after his arrival on campus. RIP Brute Force pic.twitter.com/ieOYTTXH7m— Marquette Basketball (@MarquetteMBB) June 9, 2022
Athletic Director Bill Scholl:
“George’s name is synonymous with Marquette Basketball,” Vice President & Director of Athletics Bill Scholl said. ”He was part of the foundation our program was built on and his career speaks for itself. He had a lasting impact on our University and we mourn the loss with our entire Marquette family.”
Men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart:
“George is really the one who got everything started at Marquette,” head coach Shaka Smart said. ”There aren’t words that can express how important he was to this program. The reverence with which former players and fans alike speak of George is second to none. We’ve lost a true legend.”
Thompson came to Marquette from New York City in 1965, which was Al McGuire’s second season on the sideline. After sitting out his freshman year by NCAA rule at the time, Thompson went on to become Marquette’s all-time leading scorer, topping Don Kojis’ record of 1,504 points. He tallied up 1,773 career points in his three seasons, leading MU to the NCAA tournament in his junior and senior seasons. That scoring record would stand for 40 years, and remember: The NCAA allowed freshmen to start playing just five years after Thompson’s collegiate career was over. For 35 years, Marquette guys played for four seasons, and no one could touch Thompson’s mark. His teammate Dean Meminger got to 1,637 in his three seasons, and Bo Ellis, even with four full seasons under his belt, only reached 1,663.
It wasn’t until Jerel McNeal finished his career with 1,985 points in 2009 that Thompson’s mark finally fell, and he’s been since surpassed by Lazar Hayward (1,859) and Markus Howard (2,761) as well. Howard was the first to actually break Thompson’s three-year record, finishing his junior season with 1,955 points, while McNeal and Hayward were both in the 1,200’s at that point.
To put it another way: For over 50 years, George Thompson was still the only Marquette player to ever average more than 20 points a game in his career. Markus Howard is the only one to get there as well, wrapping up with 21.6 per game. Not even Dwyane Wade (19.7) or Jim Chones (19.0), neither of whom finished a full collegiate career before turning pro, could score it like George Thompson did in the late 1960s.
For you younger types out there, your only memories of George Thompson might in fact be when Marquette attempted to hand out his #24 jersey not once, but twice, since the start of the 21st Century. It happened first with Lazar Hayward, who actually wore it for three games of his Marquette career back in 2006-07 before Thompson made his displeasure known, as he had been told that his number was retired and would never be worn again. It happened again in 2015 when Haanif Cheatham arrived on campus. Marquette actually announced Cheatham as #24 because someone fell asleep at the wheel and forgot what happened seven years earlier. Weirdly, the reporting on that at the time was that it was done with Thompson’s permission.... but Cheatham ended up wearing #25 when the season actually rolled around.
I don’t have any personal George Thompson stories to tell, other than to tell you that I know I enjoyed hearing him call Marquette basketball games on the radio with Steve True back in the day. I commend to you Ben Steele’s words in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Thompson’s passing, as he speaks with both True, Thompson’s long time radio partner, and Bob Piercy, Thompson’s teammate at Marquette. If you’ve got a story about a nice interaction you had with Thompson or, if you’re older than me, a story about watching Thompson play for Marquette, then please share as you feel able in the comments section.
Rest in power, George.