Founded in the fall of 1906, the Georgetown men's basketball team played its first game on February 9, 1907, defeating the University of Virginia by a score of 22–11. In its first 60-some years, the program displayed only sporadic success. Until McDonough Gymnasium opened on campus for the 1950–51 season, the team changed home courts frequently, playing on campus at Ryan Gymnasium and off campus at McKinley Technology High School, Uline Arena, and the National Guard Armory, as well as playing individual home games at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum and The Catholic University of America's Brookland Gymnasium, among others. The downtown locations of these venues was also influenced by the number of Law School students who played on the team in this era. From 1918 through 1923, while on campus at Ryan Gymnasium, Georgetown managed a 52–0 home record under coach John O'Reilly. A large on-campus arena was proposed in 1927, but shelved during the Great Depression.
The team recruited its first All-American, Ed Hargaden, in 1931–32. From 1932 till 1939, the Hoyas played in the Eastern Intercollegiate Conference, and were regular-season conference co-champions in 1939. In 1942, a Hoya went pro for the first time, when three seniors, Al Lujack, Buddy O'Grady, and Dino Martin were drafted professionally upon graduation. The next year the team, led by future congressman Henry Hyde, reached new heights by going all the way to the 1943 NCAA championship game, where they lost to Wyoming. The Hoyas' coach, Elmer Ripley, would be inducted into the basketball hall of fame in 1973.
The program was suspended from 1943 to 1945 because of World War II, however, and it was rarely successful over the next three decades. In 1953, former Baltimore Bullets player Buddy Jeannette coached the team to its first National Invitation Tournament invitation, but it lost in the first round to Louisville. Top players from this period include Tom O'Keefe, the first Hoya to reach 1,000 career points in 1949–50, and future National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who would graduate second in Hoya career rebounds in 1962. O'Keefe would later return to coach the team from 1960 until 1966, when the school hired John Magee, who had led Boston College as a player to its first NCAA Tournament bid. Magee led the team to the 1970 NIT, just its third post-season appearance, but a dismal three-win season in 1971–72 led to his dismissal.
John Thompson, Jr., played two seasons with the Boston Celtics before he achieved local notability coaching St. Anthony's High School in Washington, D.C. to several very successful seasons. Thompson was hired to coach Georgetown in 1972, and with several recruits from St. Anthony's like Merlin Wilson, quickly and dramatically improved the team. Georgetown, while still independent, participated in the Eastern College Athletic Conference′s 1975 postseason ECAC South Tournament, and after a 16–9 regular season found itself facing West Virginia in the conference tournament championship. Derrick Jackson's buzzer beater won Georgetown its first tournament championship, and a bid to the 1975 NCAA Tournament. Georgetown repeated as ECAC South Tournament champions the following year, beating George Washington University when Craig Esherick's buzzer beater sent the game to overtime, and as ECAC South-Upstate Tournament champions in the 1978-79 season, beating Syracuse University in Jim Boeheim's first game against the Hoyas as Syracuse's coach.
Prior to the 1979–80 season, Georgetown joined with six other schools, Providence, St. John's, Syracuse, Seton Hall, Connecticut, and Boston College to found a conference focused primarily on basketball. The Big East Conference provided Georgetown increased competition, and several of its longest rivalries. On February 13, 1980, in the final game at Manley Field House, Georgetown star Sleepy Floyd scored two last-second free-throws to snap #3 Syracuse's 57 game home winning streak, leading Coach Thompson to declare "Manley Field House is officially closed." They faced Syracuse again three weeks later in the first Big East Tournament Finals, winning 87–81. In the 1980 NCAA Tournament, the team advanced to the Elite Eight, where they fell on a last second foul call to the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The team moved its home arena in the 1981-82 season to the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland to accommodate its growing fan base. That season, sparked by star freshman Patrick Ewing, the Hoyas reached the 1982 national championship finals. In a highly regarded and closely fought contest the Hoyas' Fred Brown threw an errant pass to Tar Heels forward James Worthy that sealed the title for UNC. In the 1983-84 season they faced Syracuse again for the Big East Tournament Finals, prevailing in a tight overtime game. Georgetown once again reached the national championships, where this time they defeated Hakeem Olajuwon's Houston Cougars 84–75, to be the 1984 national champions. Ewing was named the tournament's most valuable player, and Fred Brown given the chance to raise the trophy first.
During the 1984-85 season, the team's rivalry with St. John's University grew as the Redmen snapped the Hoyas' 29 game win streak. At their next meeting, with Georgetown and St. John's ranked #2 and #1 respectively, Coach Thompson entered Madison Square Garden wearing the same sweater pattern as St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca, and prevailed in what became known as "the sweater game." The Hoyas won two more meetings with St. John's that year, in the 1985 conference finals, and again in the Final Four, which propelled the Hoyas into the 1985 finals. In the biggest upset in a national championship game, the Hoyas narrowly missed the chance for repeat championships by losing to #8 seed Villanova. Ewing graduated, having helped his team to a 121–23 record in his four years, and was the Hoyas first player to be drafted with the #1 pick.
Senior Reggie Williams led the Hoyas to both Big East regular season and tournament championships in the 1986-87 season. Freshman Alonzo Mourning and sophomore Dikembe Mutombo helped win both in the 1988-89 season. Morning and Mutombo were both excellent shot blockers, Mourning led the nation in 1988–89, and fans created a "Rejection Row" section under the basket. They repeated both championships in the 1989-90 season and won the regular season title in the 1991-92 season. In the 1994-95 season, Allen Iverson won the Big East Rookie of the Year award. During his two years at Georgetown, Iverson scored a Georgetown-record 22.9 points per game. In 1995-96, he propelled the Hoyas to a major upset over the Connecticut Huskies during the season, but Georgetown later lost to the Huskies in the final seconds of that year's Big East Tournament.
In the 1996-97 season, with an 11–7 conference record, the Hoyas won the regular season Big East 7 Division title for the second year in a row, but fell in the first round of the 1997 NCAA tournament to the North Carolina-Charlotte 49ers. In December 1997, just after the beginning of the 1997-98 season, the team moved back into Washington, D.C. with the construction of a new arena, the Verizon Center (originally MCI Center), in Chinatown. The 1997-98 campaign ended in an overtime loss to Georgia Tech in the NIT.
Thompson retired abruptly in the midst of the 1998-99 season on January 8, 1999, citing marriage problems, and was replaced by his assistant Craig Esherick. Under Thompson, 26 players were chosen in the NBA Draft, eight in the first round, including two players selected first overall, Ewing by the New York Knicks in 1985 and Iverson by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996. Over his 26½ seasons, Thompson's Hoyas went an impressive 596–239 (.714), running off a streak of 24 postseason appearances with 20 in the NCAA tournament and four in the NIT.
Craig Esherick coached the Georgetown Hoyas basketball squad from January 1999 to March 2004. Esherick was a four-year player for the men's basketball team from 1974 to 1978 and then the lead assistant coach under John Thompson Jr. from 1981 to 1999. The team finished with a 15–15 record in his first season – going 8–10 after Thompson resigned and Esherick took over –before losing to Princeton in the first round of the 1999 NIT. They improved in 1999-2000, going 19–15 and accepting an invitation to the 2000 NIT. After winning the first-round game in triple overtime over Virginia, the Hoyas lost in the second-round game to California.
In 2000-01, led by future top NBA Draft pick Michael Sweetney, they made the NCAA tournament after finishing 23–7 in the regular season. In the opening round of the NCAA tournament the 7th-seeded Hoyas advanced past 10th-seeded Arkansas on a game-winning shot at the buzzer by Nat Burton. The Hoyas subsequently beat Hampton, and then lost to third-seeded Maryland in the Sweet Sixteen.
In 2001-02, the Hoyas went 19–11, barely missing an NCAA tournament bid. The team rejected a bid to the 2002 NIT bid because of travel-arrangement issues associated with the players' ability to attend classes, resulting in their first season without a postseason tournament since 1973-74. In 2002-03, the Hoyas finished the regular season with a 19–15 record, and accepted a bid to the 2003 NIT, where they made it to the final but lost to Big East rival St. John's. Sweetney was named a second-team All-American and was drafted with the ninth pick in the 2002 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks.
In Esherick′s final season, 2003–04, the Hoyas struggled to a 13–15 overall record and a dismal 4–12 Big East record, and for the first time since the 1973-74 season received no invitation to either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT. The 13 wins were the team's fewest since the 1973–74 season and Esherick was fired after 5½ seasons as head coach on March 15, 2004, five days after an opening-round loss in the 2004 Big East Tournament to Boston College. He had posted a 103-74 (.597) record during his tenure as head coach. Georgetown began a national search for a new coach after Esherick's firing that resulted in the hiring of John Thompson III.
On April 21, 2004, John Thompson III was selected as the head coach of the Hoyas. The son of the legendary Hoyas coach took over the position after over a decade at Princeton University. The younger Thompson was a player for the Tigers from 1984 to 1988, was an assistant coach at Princeton from 1995 to 2000, and then took over as head coach at Princeton until his move to the Hoyas. Thompson's head coaching stint at Princeton was marked with success as he led the Tigers to three Ivy League titles, two NCAA tournament appearances and one NIT appearance.
Thompson brought with him an adaptation of the Princeton offense as an offensive philosophy to Georgetown. He had learned it under the tutelage of legendary coach Pete Carril at Princeton and began to adjust the strategy to the more athletic players he would be coaching at Georgetown. Thompson III also immediately brought two new assistant coaches to Georgetown in Robert Burke and Kevin Broadus.
Thompson inherited three players that Esherick had recruited: Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert, and Tyler Crawford. He also brought with him a former Princeton recruit, Jonathan Wallace and saw the return of two major contributors from the previous Georgetown team in Brandon Bowman, Ashanti Cook, and Darrel Owens. John Thompson III's first notable win with the team took place on January 21, 2006 in the 16th game of the 2005-06 season, when unranked Georgetown upset #1 Duke University. This was Georgetown's first win over a #1 ranked team in 21 years.
The 2006–07 season marked the centennial of Hoya hoops, which was celebrated by honoring some of the team's most famous alumni at the Georgetown-Marquette game on February 10, 2007. Led by juniors Green, Hibbert, Wallace, Patrick Ewing, Jr., the son of the Georgetown player from the elder Thompson era, the Hoyas won their first regular-season Big East Championship since 1992 and defeated the Pittsburgh Panthers to win their first Big East Tournament Championship since 1989. Jeff Green was named the Big East Player of the Year and the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. In the NCAA tournament, the Hoyas beat North Carolina in the Regional Final when their defense caused North Carolina to suffer an improbable collapse in which UNC missed 22 of their final 23 field goal attempts. The Hoyas then advanced to the 2007 Final Four where they fell to an Ohio State team led by Greg Oden.
The 2007–08 Hoyas finished with a regular season record of 27–5, and again won the conference regular season title. They lost to Pittsburgh in the conference championship game. This placed them as a number two seed in the 2008 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament, where they lost their second-round game. After the season, Roy Hibbert, Jonathan Wallace, and Patrick Ewing, Jr. all graduated, while Vernon Macklin and Jeremiah Rivers both transferred from the school. The Hoyas began their 2008–09 season ranked #22 AP/#18 ESPN, however, college basketball's toughest strength of schedule eventually wore down a team that was also one of the youngest. The 2008–09 Hoyas were 7–11 in Big East play for a 12th-place finish, followed by a first-round loss in the Big East tournament, the worst record in Thompson's years at the helm. The Hoyas accepted a bid to the 2009 NIT, but lost in the first round to Baylor.
In 2009–10, the team finished the season 23–11, and 10–8 in Big East play. They advanced to the championship game of the 2010 Big East Men's Basketball Tournament before losing to West Virginia. They received an at–large bid to the 2010 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament, earning a 3 seed in the Midwest Region, where they were upset by 14 seed Ohio in the first round. Greg Monroe entered the NBA Draft as a sophomore and was selected by the Detroit Pistons. The 2010–11 team was led by Austin Freeman and Chris Wright. The team scored multiple early wins over ranked teams, including an overtime win at #9 Missouri, but their stumbles at the end of the season coincided with Wright breaking his hand and missing three games. The team received an at-large bid, but lost in their first game of the 2011 NCAA Tournament to eventual Final Four team Virginia Commonwealth.
Prior to the 2011–12 season, the Hoyas made a goodwill trip to China for several matches with local teams. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden attended their first game, a win over the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons. Their second game against the Bayi Rockets, however, ended in a brawl, causing the team to leave the court while Chinese fans threw garbage and debris. Georgetown won its final games, against the Liaoning Dinosaurs and the Taiwanese national team without incident. The 2012–13 season saw the Hoyas as the top overall seed in the Big East tournament based on a tiebreaker, but lost in the semifinals. Georgetown earned entry as a number two seed in the South bracker in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, facing tournament newcomer Florida Gulf Coast University in the second round. Georgetown lost to the 15th seeded Eagles 78–68, the seventh number two seed to lose to a 15 seed. It was the fourth consecutive season the Hoyas were eliminated by a double-digit seed in the NCAA tournament.
The 2013–14 season was the team's first after Georgetown and six other schools left the original Big East Conference and joined Butler, Creighton, and Xavier in forming the new Big East Conference – part of a major conference realignment in which several other teams moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference from the old Big East and the old Big East became the American Athletic Conference. Like the previous year, the 2013–14 season started abroad, with the Hoyas playing in the Armed Forces Classic at Camp Humphreys near Pyeongtaek, South Korea. After a 17–13 regular-season record followed by an upset in the first round of the 2014 Big East Tournament at the hands of last-place DePaul, the team received a #4 seed in the 2014 NIT, losing in the second round to top-seeded Florida State.
In 2014–15, the Hoyas rebounded from their previous season's performance. Ranked as high as No. 21 at times, they completed the regular season with a 20-7 record and a second-place finish in the Big East, and they advanced to the semifinals of the 2015 Big East Tournament before losing to Xavier. Ranked No. 22 in the country, they received a No. 4 seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, but lost to Utah in their second tournament game.
Two disappointing seasons followed. The Hoyas began their 2015–16 season with a four-game exhibition trip to Italy and Switzerland, and early in the regular season defeated No. 14 Syracuse, but then staggered to a 15-18 finish. They received no invitation to either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT for the first time since 2003–04 and only the second time since 1973–74. During the 2016–17 season, Georgetown defeated three ranked teams – No. 13 Oregon, No. 16 Creighton, and No. 11 Butler – as well as their former Big East rivals Syracuse and Connecticut, but they finished ninth in the Big East with a 5-13 conference record – the most losses they had ever suffered in a season in either version of the Big East Conference – and lost to St. John's in the first round of the 2017 Big East Tournament to finish at 14-18. They missed both the NCAA Tournament and the NIT for the second straight year, the first time they had missed the postseason in back-to-back seasons since 1972–73 and 1973–74.No coach (1906–1907) – student manager Lou Murray ran the team
Maurice Joyce (1907–1911)
James Colliflower (1911–1914)
John D. O'Reilly (1914–1921)
James Colliflower (1921–1922)
Jock Maloney (1922–1923)
John D. O'Reilly (1923–1927)
Elmer Ripley (1927–1929)
Bill Dudak (1929–1930)
John T. Colrick (1930–1931)
Fred Mesmer (1931–1938)
Elmer Ripley (1938–1943)
Program suspended (1943–1945) due to World War II
Ken Engles (1945–1946)
Elmer Ripley (1946–1949)
Buddy O'Grady (1949–1952)
Buddy Jeannette (1952–1956)
Tommy Nolan (1956–1960)
Tommy O'Keefe (1960–1966)
Jack Magee (1966–1972)
John Thompson, Jr. (1972–1999)
Craig Esherick (1999–2004)
John Thompson III (2004— )
The Hoyas have an excellent history of preparing players for the NBA. Two Hoyas were the NBA first overall draft picks: Patrick Ewing in 1985 and Allen Iverson in 1996. Alonzo Mourning was the second overall pick in the 1992 draft. Dikembe mutumbo also was drafted in the first round, 4th overall Other alumni have gone undrafted, but entered the NBA later, such as Jaren Jackson in 1989 and Henry Sims and Chris Wright in 2013.
Several Hoya basketball players are famous purely for their off-court accomplishments. Brendan Gaughan, who walked onto the basketball squad, is a driver in NASCAR's Truck Series and also raced one season in the Cup Series. James L. Jones, who played for the Hoyas in the mid-60's before joining the Marine Corps, when on to become Commandant of the Marine Corps, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Special Liaison to the Mideast peace talks and President Obama's National Security Advisor. Paul Tagliabue, who played in the early 1960s and was one of the leading rebounders in school history, became Commissioner of the National Football League from 1989–2006 and is currently Georgetown's Chairman of the Board of Directors. Henry Hyde, who led Georgetown to its first national final, was elected a member of Congress from Illinois and Chairman of House Judiciary Committee. He received the nation's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom. William Shea, who played in the 1920s, was the New York attorney who brought the New York Mets to the city. Shea Stadium, now demolished and replaced on-site by the Mets' current home of Citi Field, was named in his honor.