There are two distinct factions when it comes to Georgetown hiring Patrick Ewing as the next men’s basketball coach. Those who love, LOVE the move and those who are quietly uneasy.
That first group is filled with dreamers, NBA columnists and old-school college basketball fans that remember when the Hoyas ruled the land with Ewing front and center. That other group is largely comprised of those who consume all things Georgetown. Who scream for joy after big wins and sought therapy after Florida Gulf Coast.
Most of what you’ve read following Monday’s big news expresses thoughts from that first group. This column speaks for that second faction.
Nobody knows whether Ewing will thrive as a first-time head coach on any level. All involved hope he rocks. We remember his famous arrival in 1981, his intimidating presence fueling “Hoya Paranoia,” the 1984 national championship and the Hall of Fame NBA career. After suffering back-to-back losing seasons, there’s excitement with the program’s most iconic player returning to save the day. Just no shock for those who understand the program’s thinking.
Nostalgia isn’t back on campus with the hire. It never left. The Hoyas live in the past, many believe. This move only reinforces that notion. The past is why those on the outside adore the hire. It’s why many of those who contemplate Hoyas hoops daily are in “we’ll see” mode.
When longtime coach John Thompson III was fired last month, even those opposed viewed the move as a chance for change. Always respect the championship past, the Big East prowess, the popular culture impact. But the 21st century is here and nearly two decades old. On many levels, Georgetown’s thinking remains stuck in the 1980’s.
Let’s pause for a moment of reflection. PATRICK EWING IS THE NEW GEORGETOWN COACH. The 11-year-old me who wore gray t-shirts all the time because Ewing did so under his Hoyas jersey can’t believe this is happening. Dick Vitale once dubbed Ewing the greatest college basketball player of all-time. Pinch me.
Of course, that’s all about memory lane. Making Georgetown great again shouldn’t be simply about going back in time, even if that kind of thinking is prevalent these days.
Let’s respect Ewing’s coaching acumen. He took an assistant job with the Wizards immediately after his NBA career ended in 2002. Ewing, 54, spent the next nine seasons working under the brothers Van Gundy, Jeff and Stan. Since 2013 he’s held the Associate Head Coach title under Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford. Those three are considered tactical gurus.
Tactical concerns were part of the “Is JTIII in trouble” conversations along with just one NCAA Tournament appearance in the last four seasons. The losses didn’t solely doom his tenure. The program’s closed off ways, which took hold in Ewing’s playing era, played a large part.
Limited access for and embracing of fans/students is a frequent complaint along with scant behind-the-scenes looks. Not allowing freshman to speak with the media until second semester remains among the program’s more antiquated policies.
Recruiting isn’t only about the players. JT3, like Ewing, wasn’t an extrovert. Give fans emotion if you want them along for the ride. Otherwise, all they cling to are wins. Once the victories went away in recent years, the faithful lost hope. They turned into empty seats at Verizon Center and on JT3 quicker than an Allen Iverson fastbreak.
Does any of this change under Ewing? We’ll see.
That after his lengthy NBA career Ewing could have gone straight to the beach and instead chose the bench as an assistant coach speaks to work ethic. Good. He’ll need that on the recruiting trail, an aspect some suggest accounts for 80 percent of a D1 coaching job.
Ewing’s only known experience in that area comes from his own and that of son Patrick Jr., who was part of JT3’s staff last year. Today’s 16-year-old* hot shots may only know of Ewing’s significance if they watched the great 30-for-30 documentary on the Big East or heard tales of glory from an older relative.
(*If we’re going with the wayback machine, Georgetown should seriously consider getting Iverson truly involved with the program. Nobody connected with Georgetown relates to the current generation of future Hoyas on and off the court better than the legendary guard.)
Ewing often stated his desire for one of those coveted 30 NBA head coaching gigs. It’s doubtful any scenario other than the siren call from Georgetown alters his course. It’s doubtful Georgetown hires any other NBA assistant with zero college coaching experience.
John Thompson Jr. turned this program into a national powerhouse. Following his retirement in 1999, we’ve had his lead assistant, one of his two sons and now his surrogate son take over. Some in D.C. might suggest that’s lineage isn’t hope and change, but rather more of the same.
We should absolutely give Ewing benefit of the doubt. It’s simply hard for some considering all of the intertwinings. Realize some feared a rumored Tommy Amaker hire simply because the Harvard coach is represented by long-time Thompson confident David Falk. Amaker’s image doesn’t hang throughout the new-ish, 144,000 square foot-ish, $60 million-ish Thompson Athletic Center like the heralded Ewing.
With only eight scholarship players currently on the roster, Georgetown likely struggles again next season. How quickly winning returns to the Hilltop likely depends on how Ewing and his yet-to-be-determined staff adjust to the recruiting wars and AAU culture. For all involved, let’s hope that happens and soon. If you thought the idea of firing JTIII was rough, imagine the icon known for his gray t-shirts getting the pink slip.
Some will tell you this hire isn’t about nostalgia because of Ewing’s diligent work on the NBA level and therefore deserves a shot. He did, he does and yet those folks are off base, the quietly uneasy types will say. That first faction is thinking of Ewing’s long-awaited opportunity and a program’s past glories. That other group, having truly lived through Georgetown’s past, regularly focuses on the Hoyas’ future. For once they thought the path wouldn’t be so obvious. They want Georgetown to be great again. They just aren’t sure going back in time is the progressive call. We’ll see.