On Friday morning, Patrick Ewing took time to reflect on the life and recent passing of former Georgetown coach John Thompson, Jr.
In the press conference, Ewing recognized his role as the head coach of the Georgetown program and his duty to continue Thompson’s legacy as a leader on and off the court. He reflected that Thompson and Georgetown are essentially synonymous and what being part of the Georgetown family means. He pointed to friends and fellow alumni in Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning as stellar examples of what Georgetown and Thompson have helped to create. He noted the longevity of NBA careers in himself, Mutombo, Mourning, and Iverson, and noted Thompson’s role in preparing each of them.
Ewing reiterated how Thompson would sometimes just stop practice and sit in his legendary chair and share wisdom of life. “Not only did he help me to be a great player, but he helped me to be a good person,” Ewing said. “I came to Georgetown a boy and left a man.”
Highlighting his development at Georgetown, and growth of his friendship with Thompson, Ewing shared two stories from distinct times in his life about his decisions to come to the Hilltop and to return to Georgetown.
“He was the main reason—I was the most highly recruited player in the nation and I could have gone anywhere in the country,” Ewing said when asked about how his decision to attend Georgetown was influenced by Thompson as a coach.
“UCLA [ended up being] my second choice. I visited and got to meet Kareem, Walton, all those UCLA greats ... It was a great trip.” Patrick Ewing almost chose to go with UCLA Coach Larry Brown.
But Georgetown was his last visit and Thompson won him over. “Having the opportunity to see a black man who looked like me carry himself with class and dignity, and he could be someone that you could emulate,” Ewing noted that “It was a no-brainer.”
Ewing addressed a second time where Coach Thompson persuaded him to come to the Hilltop, this time as coach. When speaking about the final interview for the position, he indicate that the man who was once the boy that every college in America wanted was a bit unsure if he said enough to get the job.
“President [Jack] DeGioia has such a great poker face,” Ewing remembered. “It was all very cloak-and-dagger for the final interview. Paul Tagliabue and [Athletic Director] Lee Reed was at my hotel waiting for me ... We drove to Paul Tagliabue’s office and President DeGioia was there.”
Ewing had previously interviewed a few times with the search firm, Korn Ferry, at that point after but only throwing his hat in the proverbial ring after a call from John Thompson.
“We need to have one of our family members in this job,” Ewing relayed that Thompson had said to him.
“I never thought I’d be coaching in college ... when [John Thompson III] was let go, I was disappointed, I was hurt, just like all of us, and just like he [Thompson, Jr.] was.”
After the interview, Ewing didn’t know if he got the job. “I thought I gave a great interview,” Ewing said, “Lee Reed called me and asked what I thought and I told him that I just couldn’t read President DeGioia’s face.”
Ewing presented himself as a candidate who ultimately got the job. The former top recruit who every school wanted to come to their program was now nervous about getting the job where his coach, mentor, and friend built a powerhouse basketball program churning out dozens of good men.
The “boy” who chose Georgetown in 1981 over all the other schools because of seeing Thompson as a role model, while Ewing—the “man”—chose Georgetown in 2017 in order to be that role model.
Ewing said he’ll remember Thompson “just by the way he protected us and stood up for us. He didn’t have to say anything ... He just did it for all of us. That’s what I learned.”
Ewing relayed that he is advocating in the university for, in this upcoming season, the court be renamed “John Thompson Court” and that patches with his initials be sewn onto the jerseys. However, players and fans will definitely be looking to Ewing as one of the biggest symbols of John Thompson, Jr.
As head coach, tasked with carrying Thompson’s legacy, Ewing knows what he has to do.
“It’s not only our job as people who played for him ... but now it’s my responsibility to do those same things with the kids I’m teaching—to be their father-figure, to be their leader.”